WASHINGTON – AT&T Corp. (T) shares climbed more than 7 percent Thursday amid reports that SBC Communications Inc. (SBC), the nation's second biggest regional phone company, is in talks to acquire America's once-dominant telephone brand for at least $15 billion.
AT&T is a 120-year-old telephone icon once known as Ma Bell that handled the nation's telephone calls before it was broken apart 21 years ago. The talks were reported Thursday by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the discussions.
AT&T shares rose $1.35, or 7.3 percent, to $19.80 on the New York Stock Exchange (search), while SBC shares fell 53 cents, or 2 percent, to $24.05.
An AT&T acquisition would give San Antonio-based SBC a company that still has a sizable list of government and corporate clients for long-distance and other telecommunications services, despite several years of financial struggles and customer losses.
AT&T still has nearly 30 million long-distance customers. SBC has about 50 million local-phone customers, mostly in the Midwest and South.
Citing executives, The Times said a deal would likely cost SBC more than $16 billion.
The talks are considered "fluid" and "very, very sensitive," the Times reported, citing executives. The Journal said executives have met sporadically over the past few weeks and that no final decisions have been made.
AT&T declined to comment on the reports, citing a policy against discussing "rumor or speculation about mergers, acquisitions, divestitures or other business combinations," said AT&T spokesman Jim Byrnes.
A message was left for SBC but it was not immediately returned. The papers said SBC had declined to comment.
In July, Bedminster, N.J.-based AT&T said it would no longer market new residential long-distance business. But the company is still aggressively seeking to sign up homes for Internet-based phone service.
Last year, AT&T slashed 12,500 jobs as it retreated from the consumer telephone business.