April 30, 2013 1:20 pm

SoftBank: Sprint finish

Japanese telco’s energetic dealmaker determined to close deal

Energy counts for much in getting big deals done. Masayoshi Son has delivered a punchy defence of the value in his bid for Sprint compared with that of Charlie Ergen’s Dish Network. But his performance was not aimed at his home base so much as Sprint’s shareholders, who must choose. Thus SoftBank investors are no clearer about their future.

SoftBank’s share price suggests they are either relaxed about that, or too confused to move. Initial horror at a releveraged SoftBank after the deal went public in October wiped one-fifth off its shares. That had been recovered by the time Shinzo Abe’s likely election sent the Tokyo market on a tear, after which SoftBank has gained nearly four-fifths compared with three-fifths for the broader Topix. Since Dish hove into view, SoftBank has matched the Topix. Relief that Mr Son does not plan to increase his bid has a lot to do with that, although SoftBank is likely to be downgraded to junk if the Sprint deal proceeds as it is. On Tuesday Mr Son deployed various arguments, including Mr Ergen’s lack of expertise in telecoms. This is an interesting tactic from a man who has variously owned stakes in businesses ranging from chipmakers to magazines and TV broadcasters. Mr Son’s valuation sums were as assumption-filled as Mr Ergen’s two weeks ago. But such is dealmaking. The most arresting were around the cost to Sprint of the delay in much-needed investment should it choose to wait for the Dish offer, and the hefty $1bn charge if the SoftBank deal is broken.

If Mr Son loses Sprint, SoftBank will get more than $4bn in currency hedge profits, compensation and its Sprint stake. But that will leave
Mr Son doubtless seeking another deal, and the same process starts all over again. Thus will it always be with such an energetic dealmaker. SoftBank’s muted market moves suggests its investors accept that.

Email the Lex team in confidence at lex@ft.com

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