SoftBank CEO to lay out vision for Sprint


06/20/2013 1:21 PM

05/16/2014 9:37 AM

Billionaire Masayoshi Son will tell SoftBank Corp. investors Thursday how he plans to use the purchase of Sprint Nextel Corp. to transform Japan’s No. 3 mobile carrier into the world’s No. 1.

At the company’s annual meeting Thursday evening, Son has to convince shareholders his $21.6 billion bid for Overland Park-based Sprint will generate growth for the Tokyo-based company as it faces a shrinking population at home. SoftBank inched closer to the acquisition after Dish Network Corp. passed on making a new offer by the U.S. carrier’s deadline earlier this week.

The global ambitions of Son, 55, who invited his Twitter followers to attend even if they don’t own SoftBank shares, are threatened by Dish’s separate offer for a stake in Clearwire Corp. The broadband company, majority-owned by Sprint, controls valuable wireless airwaves that SoftBank needs to roll out a fourth-generation network in the U.S. to challenge Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc.

“The money doesn’t matter, it is getting what he wants,” said Edwin Merner, president of Tokyo-based Atlantis Investment Research Corp. “To do well in the U.S. market will not be easy. I think he can do this.”

SoftBank, which has about 42 million subscribers with its units, is the fastest-growing mobile carrier in Japan and wants to imitate that success with Sprint by improving networks and services, Son said. SoftBank’s shares have gained 74 percent this year, compared with a 27 percent increase in the Topix index.

“I am determined to be No. 1 in the world very soon in my industry,” Son said last week. “You are lucky not to be my competitor.”

Softbank, founded in 1981, has made almost 100 purchases since 2000, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company has taken stakes in companies including Yahoo Japan Corp., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Ustream Inc.

Son is the 67th richest person in the world with a net worth of $13.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His fortune has increased by $4.8 billion this year.

SoftBank has the backing of Sprint’s board and second- largest investor Paulson & Co. Sprint and SoftBank have received national-security approval for the deal from the U.S. government.

Sprint shareholders are scheduled to vote June 25 on SoftBank’s offer. Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint has 55.2 million subscribers after losing 560,000 in the first quarter.

“SoftBank’s win is pretty much assured, so it’s now up to Son whether he can rebuild Sprint,” said Makoto Kikuchi, chief executive officer at Tokyo-based Myojo Asset Management Japan Co.

SoftBank increased its bid for Sprint by 7.5 percent to $21.6 billion last week to ward off a $25.5 billion counteroffer from Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen. SoftBank will pay $16.6 billion to Sprint shareholders and inject $5 billion of new capital into the target for a 78 percent stake, the carrier said June 11.

Englewood, Colorado-based Dish passed on making a new offer for Sprint by a June 18 deadline while declaring it would consider “options,” leaving the door open for a subsequent move. If the Sprint plan falls through, Son has said he will go after the next-largest U.S. mobile company, T-Mobile US Inc.

Separately, Sprint and Dish are competing for Bellevue, Washington-based Clearwire. Sprint, which owns slightly more than half of Clearwire, has been attempting to buy the remaining stake since December, prodded on by SoftBank.

SoftBank benefited from being the sole Japanese carrier to offer Apple Inc.’s iPhone from 2008 until last year, when KDDI Corp. started selling the handset. SoftBank added 3.53 million new subscribers in the year ended March 31, compared with 1.4 million for NTT DoCoMo Inc., Japan’s biggest carrier, and 2.6 million at KDDI, the second-biggest, according to data provided by the companies.

“SoftBank’s business in Japan is doing very well,” said Hideki Yasuda, an analyst at Ace Securities Co. in Tokyo. “It’s financially healthy.”

SoftBank forecast record operating income as acquisitions and new subscribers using iPhones stoke earnings. The company bought local competitor eAccess Ltd. to meet bandwidth demand for smartphones.

Operating profit, or sales minus the cost of goods sold and administrative expenses, for SoftBank’s domestic businesses probably will exceed 1 trillion yen in the year started April 1, up from 745 billion yen a year earlier, the company said April 30.


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