Biggest iPhone 6 winner? SprintSeptember 12, 2014: 12:54 PM ET
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul R. La Monica. Other than Time Warner, the parent of CNNMoney, Abbott Laboratories and AbbVie, La Monica does not own positions in any individual stocks.
The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus couldn't have come at a better time for Sprint and its new CEO Marcelo Claure.
Even though Sprint (S) is one of many carriers that will be selling Apple's (AAPL) newest phones, its stock has gotten the biggest bump by far this week. Shares are up more than 20% since Sprint announced an iPhone for Life plan.
AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) have barely budged. Shares of T-Mobile (TMUS), the company Sprint had hoped to merge with before it became blatantly obvious that regulators would never approve the deal, are only up a little more than 2%.
So why is Sprint enjoying a much bigger pop?
Wall Street always likes fresh blood. Claure, who joined Sprint last month, is impressing investors with comments he's making about how he hopes to dig Sprint out of the deep hole it fell into following its disastrous merger with Nextel.
A day after the iPhone 6 launch, Sprint unveiled a new plan called iPhone for Life. You pay $50 a month for texting, data and, oh yeah, talking. You don't have to pay anything upfront for the phone, but you have to lease it for an extra $20 a month. After two years you can get a new phone for free. Will Apple be up to the iPhone 7 by then?
Now you can joke if you want about how long Sprint's life will be. Despite the big pop this week, the stock is still down 35% this year and analysts expect it to keep losing money in 2015 and 2016.
But Claure is doing a great job of selling the Sprint story.
Speaking at a Goldman Sachs media and telecom conference (with the awful name of Communacopia) on Thursday, he said that on his first day as Sprint CEO, he flew to San Francisco to meet with Apple CEO Tim Cook to pitch him the iPhone for Life plan. He was thrilled that Apple agreed to it.
"For Apple to stand behind something like that, they got to believe in it. They are using their name," Claure said.
Claure also stressed that Sprint is going to be "very disciplined in the short term" about cutting costs. That's sorely needed while the company still bleeds red ink. At the same time, he noted that Sprint has to do a better job of building out and deploying its 4G network.
And Claure also repeatedly discussed how Sprint had to become the best "value proposition" in wireless -- i.e. offering the best plans at prices equal to or lower than its rivals.
Claure has already taken a big step on the pricing side by eliminating the confusing friends and family plan that it dubbed a "framily" plan.
The fate of Sprint's Frobinson framily, an odd cast of characters that includes a hamster voiced by Andrew Dice Clay married to Judy Greer with a couple of quirky kids, other relatives and friends that have appeared in Sprint TV ads for the past few months, is still unclear. I personally hope Claure puts them out to pasture.
So what's next for Sprint? Claure is enjoying a honeymoon period for now with investors. And it could last for awhile. Just ask BlackBerry (BBRY) CEO John Chen.
But there are still doubts about whether he can turn Sprint around.
An analyst at Cowen & Co. upgraded his rating on the stock to "buy" on Thursday and raised his price target to $8. But on the same day, a Jefferies analyst reiterated his "sell" rating and lowered his price target to $4. Sprint is currently trading around $7.
Still, investors should not underestimate Claure. He has the backing of Sprint's biggest investor -- Japanese tech giant SoftBank. Claure used to be the CEO of SoftBank telecom subsidiary Brightstar. SoftBank has a knack for savvy investments and the company seems committed to resurrecting Sprint.
And SoftBank may soon have more money to spend on Sprint thanks to one of its investments. SoftBank owns a more than 30% stake in Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant that's set to go public in the U.S. next week.
SoftBank is not planning to sell shares but any gains in Alibaba's stock could still boost the value of SoftBank. And that can only help Sprint. Claure even alluded to this at the Goldman Sachs conference.
"I think the Alibaba investment is going to be potentially one of the best investments that we're all going to see in our entire life," Claure said.
If he's right, Sprint should benefit.