SoftBank fight for Sprint seen trumping easy gains

Tue Apr 16, 2013 4:05pm EDT
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By Mari Saito, Tim Kelly and Sinead Carew

TOKYO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Masayoshi Son, billionaire founder of Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank Corp, is expected to stay in the battle for U.S. wireless service provider Sprint Nextel Corp, even though he could profit handsomely by walking away.

While the intentions of Charlie Ergen, the chairman of Dish Network Corp, should be clear - after a bold $25.5 billion counterbid for Sprint - not everyone is convinced the deal will go through.

Son, a rare risk taker in Japan's conservative corporate culture, is likely to put his ambitions to create a global company ahead of quick financial gains, analysts in Asia said on Tuesday. Sprint would give SoftBank a U.S. toehold.

But Ergen's dealmaking history and poker-player past, have led some in the United States to question the intentions of the executive, who in January countered Sprint's bid for control of another U.S. wireless service provider, Clearwire Corp with a higher offer. He said on Monday he would honor Sprint's bid and had not formally withdrawn his bid.

"(Ergen) plays a multi-hand approach to the world," said Chris Gleason, a managing partner at Taran Asset Management, which owns shares in Clearwire and options to buy Dish shares, adding, "it's not 100 percent clear yet what he wants."

Gleason, who still holds out hope for a Clearwire deal with Dish, said Ergen could be making "a play to rattle the Sprint-SoftBank deal."

Macquarie analyst Amy Yong said that while Dish appears to be serious about its offer for Sprint, his pursuit of the No. 3 U.S. carrier could help present Ergen with other options if SoftBank ends up winning the battle.

"It gives him a seat at the table to discuss to discuss his pay-TV business, his spectrum and financial flexibility with a number of companies," Yong said of Ergen.   Continued...

A man walks past a Softbank Corp branch in Tokyo October 28, 2012. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao