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Credit FAQ: Calculating Leverage For Selected U.S. Telecommunications And Cable Companies (2024 Update)

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Credit FAQ: Calculating Leverage For Selected U.S. Telecommunications And Cable Companies (2024 Update)

Many investors ask how S&P Global Ratings calculates leverage for certain U.S. telecommunications and cable companies. We therefore provide our analytical adjustments for EBITDA and debt for these companies that we rate: AT&T Inc., Charter Communications Inc., Comcast Corp., T-Mobile US Inc., and Verizon Communications Inc.

Table 1

U.S. Telecom and Cable Companies: Peer Risk Profile Comparison
Company Rating Business/financial risk profile Adjusted leverage threshold upside Adjusted leverage threshold downside Last-12-months adjusted leverage

AT&T Inc.

BBB/Stable/A-2 Strong/ Significant 3.0x 3.75x 3.6x

Charter Communications Inc.

BB+/Stable/-- Strong/ Aggressive 4.25x 5.0x 4.4x

Comcast Corp.

A-/Stable/A-2 Strong/ Intermediate 2.0x 3.0x 2.5x

T-Mobile US Inc.

BBB/Stable/A-2 Strong/Significant 3.0x 3.75x 3.4x

Verizon Communications Inc.

BBB+/Stable/A-2 Strong/ Intermediate 2.5x 3.25x 3.1x
Note: Ratings as of May 6, 2023. Adjusted leverage as of Dec. 31, 2023. Sources: Company reports, S&P Global Ratings estimates.

Frequently Asked Questions

What debt adjustments does S&P Global Ratings make for U.S. telecommunications and cable companies?

Many of our adjustments to a company's as-reported debt balance--such as the tax-affected unfunded portion of pension and other post-employment benefits and the netting of accessible cash and liquid investments--are common across most corporate issuers. However, we also make several less common sector-specific adjustments to debt, most notably for captive finance operations for wireless equipment receivables. Wireless companies offer customers so-called equipment installment plans (EIPs) to finance the cost of their mobile handsets. These plans qualify as captive finance operations under our criteria (see "Standard & Poor's Analytical Approach To Wireless Equipment Installment Plans," published March 30, 2016), in line with our captive finance criteria (see "The Impact Of Captive Finance Operations On Nonfinancial Corporate Issuers," published Oct. 23, 2023).

Because we base this calculation on publicly available data, we show this adjustment for AT&T and Verizon. (For more details on our methodology and adjustments, see "Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments" and "Guidance: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments," both published April 1, 2019).

How does S&P Global Ratings treat wireless companies' EIPs?

EIP operations differ in many ways from traditional captive finance operations, but we believe these plans function primarily as a means to market the wireless carrier's ultimate product--its network--to end users. We also believe this is true of traditional subsidy plans, in which wireless carriers essentially finance or subsidize a portion of the handset cost.

However, a key difference (and a limiting factor in applying our captive criteria to subsidy plans) is that under EIP accounting, a long-term asset is created, akin to a loan that would not exist under subsidy accounting. This financial asset can be more easily separated and monetized than service revenue receivables. As a result, we believe it's more appropriate to measure debt associated with financing equipment receivables against these financial assets as opposed to the cash flow of the underlying business.

How does S&P Global Ratings adjust for wireless companies' captive finance operations?

We make such adjustments assuming the captive operations are material, which occurs if excluding the captive operations the financial risk profile would move by one category or we expect it to move one category over time. We use an estimated debt-to-equity ratio based primarily on the net-loss ratio. This depends on our assessment of asset portfolio quality, including the net-loss rate, because these companies do not monitor and report EIP debt and equity funding separately. Specifically, we estimate the captive's debt based on its on- and off-balance-sheet EIP receivables divided by an implied debt-to-equity ratio. The operator's net loss ratio--based on the historical and expected loss ratios, as well as underwriting standards--determines the estimated debt-to-equity ratio.

We also derive the captive's EBITDA by calculating its revenue less operating expenses. Finally, we deconsolidate the company's captive debt and EBITDA when determining adjusted leverage. We also add back its off-balance-sheet EIP receivables to reported debt.

How does S&P Global adjust for captive finance operations in other businesses?

We exclude the captive's financials from our analysis of the parent by making analytical adjustments to reported consolidated figures if:

  • We expect 70% or more of the captive's net earning assets to originate from sales or leasing of the nonfinancial corporate issuer's (new and used) goods or services;
  • We believe that the captive's key strategic mission is facilitating overall sales of the nonfinancial corporate issuer;
  • We can separate the risks and rewards of the nonfinancial corporate activities (which we call the industrial operations or "industrial") from the captive finance operations; and
  • The captive is deemed material (financial risk profile would move one category on a consolidated basis).

The objective of the adjustment procedure is to enable analysis of the core business by deconsolidation of the captive finance operation. This is because the financial assets of captive entities can typically support, like other financial companies, more leverage than typical industrial assets. This adjustment recognizes the differences in business dynamics and economic characteristics between captive and industrial operations and the appropriateness of using different financial measures, rather than analyzing the credit quality based on consolidated financial metrics. We apply this to Cox Enterprises Inc.'s NextGear operations.

When a company buys or merges with another, does S&P Global Ratings assess ratings based on pro forma adjusted leverage?

We generally don't assess the impact of mergers and acquisitions on ratings using pro forma EBITDA unless there's a compelling reason. Pro forma financial statements allow for a more representative measure of full-year performance and more significant ratios, but they have limitations. First, they reflect the financial performance of the acquisition under a different management team, so at best it's an approximation of how the larger company will perform. Each company may have somewhat different accounting standards, especially for how they amortize programming costs. Also, pro forma estimates that companies provide to the market reflect recognition of all immediate synergies.

Companies realize most synergies over time (and some not at all), and most companies' pro forma guidance doesn't include the costs (i.e., severance, restructuring) to achieve those synergies. For example, T-Mobile's original 2018 pro forma guidance for its merger with Sprint recognized $6 billion in expected synergies (it has since increased to $7.5 billion), even though the company expected to achieve those synergies over three to four years.

How does S&P Global Ratings calculate EBITDA?

We define EBITDA as a company's revenues minus operating expenses (excluding depreciation, amortization, and noncurrent asset impairment and impairment reversals). We include any cash dividends the company receives from affiliates, associates, and joint ventures, and we exclude the company's share of these investees' profits. We also exclude any share-based compensation expense payable in shares. We include restructuring and acquisition-related costs in our EBITDA calculation, but exclude asset impairments and write-downs.

How frequently does S&P Global Ratings update its adjustments?

We update our adjustments for operating leases, pension, and post-employment benefits once each year, when the companies release their form 10-K annual reports. However, we have made midyear adjustments when deemed material. We update all other adjustments quarterly.

Table 2

AT&T Inc. debt reconciliation
As of Dec. 31, 2023
Amount (Mil. $) Comments Financial statements reference S&P Global Ratings reference
Reported debt 135,493.0 Less: portion accounting for finance leases Page 67, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Ratios and Adjustments
S&P Global Ratings adjustments
Plus: trade recievables sold 9,757.0 Page 89, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 44-45 and Para 123-126, Guidance: Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: reported lease liabilities (finance and operating) 22,930.0 On-balance-sheet (operating plus finance) lease liability Page 62-63, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 91-104, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: captive finance debt -12,123.9 Accounts for debt associated with device payment plan agreement receivables based on a debt-to-equity ratio of 7x Page 89, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 137-145, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: accessible cash -6,722.0 100% of unrestricted cash and cash equivalents Page 45, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 36-38, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments; Para 85-90, Criteria: General: General Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: no equity hybrid rep as equity, equity 13,145.0 Preferred equity interest in Tower Holdings Page 87 and 48, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 127-131, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: intermediate-equity hybrid rep. as equity, Equity 2,516.5 Preferred equity interest treated as 50% debt treatment Page 46 and 89, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 127-131. Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: post-retirement benefit obligations/deferred compensation 6,366.6 Tax-effected pension (21%) and other post retirement obligations Page 77-85, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 105-114, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: put rights/option/non-redeemable interests 1,973.0 Preferred equity interest in AT&T Mobility II LLC Page 45, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 65, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: other 15,063.3 Direct supplier/vendor financing payables and unamortized debt discounts Page 92 and 67, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 44-45 and Para 123-126, Guidance: Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Total S&P Global Ratings adjustments 52,905.5
S&P Global Ratings-adjusted debt 188,398.5
Sources: Company reports, S&P Global Ratings estimates.

Table 3

AT&T Inc. EBITDA reconciliation
For rolling 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2023
Amount (Mil. $) Comments Financial statements reference S&P Global Ratings reference
S&P Global Ratings reported EBITDA 43,431.0 Reported EBITDA is revenue less total cost of goods sold and selling, general, and administrative expenses Ratios and Adjustments
S&P Global Ratings adjustments
Plus: operating lease rent 5,577.0 Annual operating lease rent Page 62-63, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 91-104, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: captive finance EBITDA -263.5 Removal of captive finance revenue based on expenses and 2% margin factor, expense factor based on weighted-average-cost of capital of balance-sheet debt Page 88-89, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 137-145, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: dividends received from equity investments 3,715.0 Cash distributions from DirecTV Page 90, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 72, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: share-based compensation expense 479.0 Annual share-based compensation expense (pre-tax) Page 85, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 72, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: others 16.0 Loss on repurchases under Equipment Installment Receivable Program Page 89, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 75, Guidance: Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Total S&P Global Ratings adjustments 9,523.5
S&P Global Ratings-adjusted EBITDA 52,954.5
Sources: Company reports, S&P Global Ratings estimates

Table 4

Charter Communications Inc. debt reconciliation
As of Dec. 31, 2023
Amount (Mil. $) Comments Financial statements reference S&P Global Ratings reference
Reported Debt 97,777 Less: portion accounting for finance leases Page F-15, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Ratios and Adjustments
S&P Global Ratings adjustments
Plus: Reported lease liabilities (finance and operating) 1,418 On-balance-sheet (operating plus finance) lease liability Page F-15, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 91-104, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: Multi-employer pension plans 0 After-tax liabilities associated with withdrawal from multiemployer pension Plan Page F-45, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2021 Para 106, Guidance: Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: Accessible cash and liquid investments -709 100% of unrestricted cash and cash equivalents Page F-4, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 36-38, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments; Para 85-90, Criteria: General: General Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: Postretirement benefit obligations/deferred compensation 0 Tax-effected pension (21%) and other post retirement obligations Page F-41, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2020 Para 54-56, Guidance: Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Total S&P Global Ratings adjustments 709
S&P Global Ratings-adjusted debt 98,486
Sources: Company reports, S&P Global Ratings estimates.

Table 5

Charter Communications Inc. EBITDA reconciliation
For the rolling 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2023
Amount (Mil. $) Comments Financial statements reference S&P Global Ratings reference
S&P Global Ratings reported EBITDA 21,255 Ratios and Adjustments
S&P Global Ratings adjustments
Plus: operating leases 506 Annual operating lease rent less variable lease costs Page F-14, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 91-104, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: share-based compensation expense 692 Annual share-based compensation expense Page F-26, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 72, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: loss on disposals of property, plant and equipment -251 Net gain on sale of assets Page F-25, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 75, Guidance: Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: litigation settlement with Sprint Communications Co. L.P. and T-Mobile USA Inc. 0 Litigation settlement Page F-32, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2021 Para 27, Guidance: Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: EBITDA other 198 Litigation settlement and employee termination cost Pages F-25 & 26, 10-K dated December 31, 2023 Para 146, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Total S&P Global Ratings adjustments 1,145
S&P Global Ratings-adjusted EBITDA 22,400
Sources: Company reports, S&P Global Ratings estimates.

Table 6

Comcast Corp. debt reconciliation
As of Dec. 31, 2023
Amount (Mil. $) Comments Financial statements reference S&P Global Ratings reference
Reported Debt 95,090 Less: portion accounting for finance leases Page 84, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Ratios and Adjustments
S&P Global Ratings adjustments
Plus: Reported lease liabilities (finance and operating) 8,586 On-balance-sheet (operating plus finance) lease liability Page 79 and 90, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 91-104, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: Accessible cash and liquid investments -6,254 100% of unrestricted cash and cash equivalents and marketable securities Page 66 and 81, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 36-38, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments; Para 85-90, Criteria: General: General Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: Postretirement benefit obligations/deferred compensation 3,598 Tax-effected pension (21%) and other post-retirement obligations (includes unfunded pension obligations as disclosed) Page 87, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 105-114, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: Put options on minority stakes 241 Redeemable noncontrolling interests and redeemable subsidiary preferred stock Page 66, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 65, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Total S&P Global Ratings adjustments 6,171
S&P Global Ratings-adjusted debt 101,261
Sources: Company reports, S&P Global Ratings estimates.

Table 7

Comcast Corp. EBITDA Reconciliation
For the rolling 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2023
Amount (Mil. $) Comments Financial statements reference S&P Global Ratings reference
S&P Global Ratings Reported EBITDA 37,649.0 Reported EBITDA is revenue less total cost of goods sold and selling, general, and administrative expenses Ratios and Adjustments
S&P Global Ratings adjustments
Plus: operating leases 1,176.7 Operating lease rent as disclosed by management Para 91-104, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: share-based compensation expense 1,021.0 Annual share-based compensation expense (pre-tax); does not include employee stock repurchase plans which are settled in cash Page 89, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 72, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Total S&P Global Ratings adjustments 2,197.7
S&P Global Ratings-adjusted EBITDA 39,846.7
Sources: Company reports, S&P Global Ratings estimates.

Table 8

T-Mobile US Inc. debt reconciliation
As of Dec. 31, 2023
Amount (Mil. $) Comments Financial statements reference S&P Global Ratings reference
Reported Debt 75,018.0 Page 55, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Ratios and Adjustments
S&P Global Ratings adjustments
Plus: Trade Recievables Sold 2,388.0 Page 77, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 44-45 and Para 123-126, Guidance: Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: Reported lease liabilities (finance and operating) 34,291.0 On-balance-sheet (operating plus finance) lease liability Page 55, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 91-104, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: Accessible cash -5,135.0 100% of cash and cash equivalents reported on balance sheet Page 55, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 36-38, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments; Para 85-90, Criteria: General: General Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: Postretirement benefit obligations/deferred compensation 990.7 Tax-effected pension (21%) and other post-retirement obligations Page 78, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 105-114, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: Other 3,777.0 Tower obligations reported on balance sheet Page 55 and 89, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 227, Guidance: Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Total S&P Global Ratings adjustments 36,311.7
S&P Global Ratings-adjusted debt 111,329.7
Sources: Company reports, S&P Global Ratings estimates.

Table 9

T-Mobile US Inc. EBITDA reconciliation
For the rolling 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2023
Amount (Mil. $) Comments Financial statements reference S&P Global Ratings reference
S&P Global Ratings reported EBITDA 27,084 Reported EBITDA is revenue less total cost of goods sold and selling, general, and administrative expenses Ratios and Adjustments
S&P Global Ratings adjustments
Plus: operating lease rent 4,987 Annual operating lease rent Page 62-63, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 91-104, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: ARO interest charges 71 Removal of captive finance revenue based on expenses and 2% margin factor, expense factor based on weighted-average-cost of capital of balance-sheet debt Page 78, 10-K dated December 31, 2023 Para 42, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: share-based compensation expense 667 Annual share-based compensation expense (pre-tax) Page 57, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 72, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: settlement costs (Litigation/insurance) -42 Legal-related expnenses related to the August 2021 cyber attack Page 43, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 146, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: loss on PP&E disposal -25 Loss on disposal group held for sale Page 43, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 75, Guidance: Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: others -170 Equipment rental/lease depreciation Page 57 and 78, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 146, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Total S&P Global Ratings adjustments 5,488
S&P Global Ratings-adjusted EBITDA 32,572
ARO--Asset retirement obligation. PP&E--Property, plant, and equipment. Sources: Company reports, S&P Global Ratings estimates.

Table 10

Verizon Communications Inc. debt reconciliation
As of Dec. 31, 2023
Amount (Mil. $) Comments Financial statements reference S&P Global Ratings reference
Reported Debt 148,583.0 Less: portion accounting for finance leases Page 74, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Ratios and Adjustments
S&P Global Ratings adjustments
Plus: reported lease liabilities (finance and operating) 26,359.0 On-balance-sheet (operating plus finance) lease liability Page 55 and 73, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 91-104, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: accessible cash and liquid investments -2,065.0 100% of unrestricted cash and cash equivalents and marketable securities Page 55, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 36-38, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments; Para 85-90, Criteria: General: General Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: post-retirement benefit obligations/deferred compensation 10,390.9 Tax-effected pension (21%) and other post-retirement obligations Page 88-94, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 105-114, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: debt - contingent considerations 52.0 Fair value of the contingent consideration Page 83, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 134-136, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: captive finance debt -23,430.5 Accounts for debt associated with device payment plan agreement receivables based on a debt-to-equity ratio of 10x Page 80, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 137-145, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: other 3,812.0 Unamortized discount, net of premium Page 74, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023
Total S&P Global Ratings adjustments 15,118.4
S&P Global Ratings-adjusted debt 163,701.4
Sources: Company reports, S&P Global Ratings estimates.

Table 11

Verizon Communications Inc. EBITDA reconciliation
For the rolling 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2023
Amount (Mil. $) Comments Financial Statements Reference S&P Reference
S&P Global Ratings reported EBITDA 46,369.0 Reported EBITDA is revenue less total cost of goods sold and selling, general, and administrative expenses Ratios and Adjustments
S&P Global Ratings adjustments
Plus: operating lease rent 5,432.0 Annual operating lease rent less variable lease costs Page 72, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 91-104, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Less: captive finance EBITDA -522.2 Removal of captive finance revenue and expenses based on a 2% revenue factor and 4.1% expense factor Page 79, 10-K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 137-145, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: dividends received from equity investments 31.0 Dividends received and equity in losses of unconsolidated businesses Page 27 and 56, 10K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 72, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: loss on disposals of property, plant and equipment 0.0 Reversal of gain on asset sale and loss on spectrum licenses Page 24 and 26, 10K dated Dec. 31, 2021 Para 72, Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Plus: share-based compensation expense 674.7 Annual share-based compensation expense (pre-tax) Page 89, 10K dated Dec. 31, 2023 Para 25, Guidance: Criteria: General: Corporate Methodology: Ratios And Adjustments
Total S&P Global Ratings adjustments 5,615.5
S&P Global Ratings-adjusted EBITDA 51,984.5
Sources: Company reports, S&P Global Ratings estimates.

Related Criteria

Related Research

This report does not constitute a rating action.

Primary Credit Analyst:Naveen Sarma, New York + 1 (212) 438 7833;
naveen.sarma@spglobal.com
Secondary Contacts:Allyn Arden, CFA, New York + 1 (212) 438 7832;
allyn.arden@spglobal.com
Chris Mooney, CFA, New York + 1 (212) 438 4240;
chris.mooney@spglobal.com

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