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AT&T's last call

With a history as old as the telephone itself, AT&T used to dominate US telecommunications. Now, after strategic blunders involving the disposal of key building blocks of business growth, its rump looks like a bite-sized takeover target. It might even have to sell at a discount to today's price.

IT WAS A rather truncated conference call, lasting less than 40 minutes including a rapid-fire Q&A session. A lot of analysts didn't get a chance to ask a question and those that did must have felt a bit short-changed. Nevertheless, David Dorman, chairman and CEO of US long-distance phone company AT&T, rounded off his comments on the third-quarter results on a determined note. "Clearly we've made some tough choices this year," he said. "However, as our third-quarter results demonstrate, those choices are beginning to pay off. We're on the right path at AT&T and we fully intend to stay the course."

If AT&T does, it will be the first time it has managed that in the past six years.

The company's recent history has been dominated by strategic U-turns, elaborate and failed restructurings, overpriced acquisitions and ill-judged disposals.

In 2000, AT&T's stock price reached a high of $110 and it was an A1/A+ rated credit with four distinct business lines producing a combined $65.9 billion of annual revenue. It is now a shadow of that, reduced to concentrating on its fixed-line service for business customers, an area of the telecoms market that is becoming increasingly unprofitable.

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