Sprint’s deal With Softbank seen roiling U.S. wireless industry

First iPhone

At $19 billion, the deal would be the biggest outbound acquisition since Japan Tobacco Inc.’s takeover of Gallaher Group Ltd. in 2007.

If completed, it would put Japanese overseas takeovers on track for a record year. Companies in Asia’s third-largest economy have announced $59.9 billion of acquisitions abroad this year, compared with $88 billion last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Softbank, the fastest-growing Japanese mobile-phone provider, was the first carrier in Japan to offer the iPhone. That helped it boost earnings by more than sevenfold over the past four years and close the gap with larger NTT DoCoMo Inc. and KDDI Corp.

Softbank may be looking toward the U.S. because it doesn’t have as many alternatives in faster-growing developing countries, which typically limit foreign investment, said Yoshihisa Toyosaki, a Tokyo-based analyst with Architect Grand Design, an electronics research and consulting company.

“Softbank is trying to take advantage of the economic turmoil in the U.S. to buy a majority stake in a carrier,” he said. “This represents an opportunity for them.”

Entering the U.S. market allows Softbank to participate in a bigger and growing market. Mobile-handset sales in the U.S. totaled 191 million units last year, compared with 182 million units in 2007, according to data compiled by IDC.

In contrast, handset shipments declined to 38 million units in Japan last year from 52 million in 2007, according to IDC.

Bloomberg News

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