Clearwire Cash-Flow Fears Could Yield Junk Rating

Shares of Clearwire Corp. closed down almost 5 percent as ratings service Standard & Poors said it fears the WiMAX service provider faces significant near-term liquidity risks.”

Clearwire stock on Wednesday closed 4.76 percent lower, at $7.40, on the news. The overall value has fallen 6 percent this year.

S&P credit analyst Allyn Arden said Clearwires cash balances may reach dangerously low levels” in 2011s first quarter as expensive network buildouts and predicted operating losses hit the company. Clearwire could land new financing in the form of spectrum sales or debt issuance, Arden added, but so far theres been no formal announcement from Clearwires equity partners which include Sprint Nextel Corp., Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc. on that front.

S&P is considering downgrading Clearwire and Arden said such a move could exceed one notch. At the moment, Clearwire holds a B- rating from S&P; that assessment sits one level above highly speculative territory and six rungs into junk.

Clearwire started 2010 with about $3.8 billion in cash and equivalents, but cash spending will total between $3 billion and $3.2 billion by the end of the year, S&P said. Already by the end of the second quarter, Clearwire was down to around $2.2 billion in cash, as the company continued pumping millions of dollars into 4G network construction.

Clearwire faces some tough going as the LTE 4G standard gains greater adoption around the globe than WiMAX. In the United States alone, both Verizon Wireless and AT&T have opted for the LTE protocol, as has wholesale startup LightSquared; Clearwire is the only WiMAX operator in the country. Clearwire has said it may offer LTE services in addition to WiMAX, but theres no clear indication yet whether that will happen.

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