Leap Wireless shares down after 4Q report

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NEW YORK (AP) ? Shares of Leap Wireless International Inc., which owns the Cricket cellular service, slipped Friday after it reported fourth-quarter results that fell slightly short of analyst expectations and investor excitement about it being a possible takeover candidate subsided.

But the shares are still up 7.5 percent since Wednesday’s close. They climbed after the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that AT&T Inc. is looking at buying other companies to expand its spectrum holdings in the wake of regulators quashing its plan to buy T-Mobile USA.

THE SPARK: For the quarter that ended Dec. 31, Leap reported late Thursday that it had a loss of $84.4 million, or $1.10 cents per share. This compares with a net loss of $249.4 million, or $3.28 per share, a year earlier, when it recorded major refinancing costs. Analysts on average expected a net loss 3 cents smaller ? $1.07 per share ? according to FactSet.

Leap Wireless hasn’t posted a quarterly profit in the last four years.

The company’s revenue rose 15 percent to $767 million but fell short of the $812 million analysts expected, mainly because of a equipment revenue fell by nearly half.

Leap added a net 178,889 customers in the quarter. It had previously said it expected to report a figure around 175,000. It ended the quarter with 5.9 million customers, putting it neck-and-neck with U.S. Cellular for the rank of fifth-largest cellphone company in the U.S.

In the latter half of last year, Cricket went from selling its contract-free wireless service only where it has its own network ? chiefly large cities ? to selling nationwide and renting time on Sprint Nextel Corp.’s network in spots where it doesn’t offer service directly. It said it added 65,000 off-network subscribers in the quarter.

Analyst Craig Moffett at Sanford Bernstein said the quarter was “merely good, not great,” even though the fourth and first quarters are usually the best of the year for sellers of prepaid service like Leap.

“More and more, it appears as though investors may have to wait another full year before getting a shot at a material beat on subscriber growth,” he said.

STOCK MOVEMENT: Shares of the San Diego-based company fell 28 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $9.34 by late afternoon.