Time Warner merger with AT&T gets judge's approval

Comcast readying new bid for 20th Century Fox film and TV assets

AT&T Inc. was cleared by a judge to take over Time Warner Inc. in an $85 billion deal that the mobile-phone giant says will fuel its evolution into a media powerhouse that can go head-to-head with Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. The companies' CEOs, AT&T's Randall Stephenson and Jeffrey Bewkes of Time Warner Inc., testified in support of the deal.

Comcast reportedly is looking to make an offer to purchase 21st Century Fox the day after AT&T's merger comes into play.

The judge said that the Department of Justice did not sufficiently meet its burden of proving that the deal would allow AT&T to harm rival TV providers.

David McAtee, AT&T's general counsel, said AT&T expected to close the deal by June 20.

Ahead of the ruling, public-interest advocates had expressed deep fears that AT&T's victory would only quicken the rapid consolidation of the media, telecom and tech industries. Trump weighed in again after the justice department filed its suit: "Personally, I've always felt that that was a deal that's not good for the country". In order for them to compete against these giants, Time Warner needs AT&T's distribution network of broadband and wireless customers.

AT&T and Time Warner lead attorney Daniel Petrocelli said the companies are eager to put the court battle behind them.

Prior to the news on the decision in the case, AT&T stock closed up 0.5% (to $34.50 per share) and Time Warner closed up 0.05% in regular trading (to $96.22 per share) which concluded at 4 p.m. ET. The government has argued that Trump did not communicate with antitrust officials over the deal and that their choice to fight the merger was not influenced by the White House.

Still, at least one company, Comcast, the largest US cable provider, had been waiting for the court decision before making any large M&A moves in media, sources have said.

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Smith let Justify roll through a first quarter in:23.37, then subtly eased up the tempo to mark the half-mile in:48.11. There were mild bids turning for home. "A bit of the greenness came out today, but he was also pushed today early on".

AT&T and Time Warner dismissed the government's concerns.

"They have to test whether those efficiencies will be gamed, or at least whether or not it is likely that the merger will result in a substantial lessening of competition, which could include price increases of pharmaceutical drugs to non-Aetna competitors who may not get the benefit of rebates that Aetna will get", Cantor said.

Trump, however, repeatedly had blasted the merger, due in no small part to his opposition to CNN, which is owned by Time Warner.

But Salil K. Mehra, a professor at Temple's Beasley School of Law and an expert on antitrust, said "this is a fearless new world in which leverage issues and the data collection on individuals make it harder to predict what will happen".

The Justice Department, which may still appeal the decision, sued the companies in November, arguing that the tie-up could be used to suppress competition and raise prices for consumers.

Initially AT&T and Time Warner planned to use a "selective enforcement" defense, alleging that the administration was blocking the deal because of Trump's dislike of CNN.

The Justice Department had repeatedly suggested the judge consider forcing AT&T to divest some of Time Warner's cable channels.

AT&T, meanwhile, saw its share price fall 2.1 percent, to $33.63, after the ruling was revealed.

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