Analysis British Telecom is, as a telecoms company, worth minus £30bn. Yes, that's a negative number there. And yet it is literally sitting on top of billions in assets.
It all starts with this point made in relation to cable theft:
BT’s network relies on more than 75 million miles of copper cable
People are stealing the cable, as we all know, because the metal is incredibly valuable. Strip the sleeve off the cable, drop it off at an accommodating scrap yard and get paid in cash. And as BT themselves say, (and yes, I've checked that they really do mean this) they've 75 million miles of this stuff festooning the countryside.
Ten pairs of copper cabling weighs around 132kg per mile. Which by the miracle of multiplication can be seen to be about 10 million tonnes of copper. Which, at current LME prices of just over £5,000 a tonne, is £50bn.
BT's current market capitalisation is just north of £20bn. So, as an operating telecoms company they're worth £30bn less than the mountain of copper they're sitting upon: that is, they're worth less than the physical assets or they have, as a telecoms company not a mountain of scrap copper, a negative value.
OK, OK, yes, this isn't quite right. There's labour involved in digging up all that copper, not all of it will be 10 pair (some of it will be heavier, 25 pairs or 50 pairs), not all of a cable is copper and copper wire scrap doesn't get the LME price.
However, we are still in the right ballpark here: the value of the copper in the wires is of the same sort of order of magnitude as the value of the company as a whole. Which leads us to two useful conclusions.
Firstly, there is a good reason why no one is ever again going to wire an entire country with copper. Fibre makes more sense now, as does going entirely mobile and ditching a landline network. Developing countries certainly aren't going to want to buy that much copper.
Secondly, it's a shocking indictment of Britain's criminal classes. Really, why is anyone bothering to go and nick a few miles of the stuff when you could buy the company and take it all? Asset-strip BT and come out with more money after selling the copper than the company cost you in the first place.
That's the problem we've got with the young people of today: no ambition. ®