Business


SoftBank still merger hungry despite $32b T-Mobile flop



Tokyo: Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank's failed bid for T-Mobile marked a rare defeat for its founder, but few expect it to sideline a man intent on building 'the world's number-one company'.

After years of scooping up companies big and small, Masayoshi Son's voracious appetite for acquisitions hit a snag amid reports earlier this month that the firm's United States unit had abandoned a $32 billion offer for T-Mobile in the face of regulatory opposition.

Son never confirmed his plan to scoop up T-Mobile. But he repeatedly said that he wanted a stronger number-three carrier to take on US market leaders Verizon and AT&T, after last year's monster $21.6 billion acquisition of Sprint. The T-Mobile acquisition was seen as key to that strategy.

The 57-year-old Son — one of Japan's most colourful entrepreneurs, who by his telling grew up poor, scrounging food from his neighbours to feed to the family's livestock — is rarely at a loss for words. But he had little to say when asked about the T-Mobile flop.

"SoftBank does not discuss whether or not we intend to purchase particular firms," he told reporters in Tokyo.

"I have never made an official comment on this, and I will not have an official comment today." However, he added: "I am always exploring various options."

Two major deals
Son may have pulled back because he has his eye on another company and needed to free up cash, analysts said. "My guess is that he needed to cancel it because he cannot let two major deals run at the same time," said Satoru Kikuchi, analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo.

"I see this as a good thing," he added. In the wake of the deal's collapse, Sprint replaced its chief executive Dan Hesse with Marcelo Claure, who heads SoftBank mobile service subsidiary Brightstar.

Money-losing Sprint had been dogged by criticism over poor network quality and spotty coverage, but Son insisted that those problems are gone and the firm under a new chief was going to offer big discounts to win back customers.

He also hired former Google executive Nikesh Arora, who may have persuaded his new boss to drop the T-Mobile deal to pursue grander ambitions.

The new hires "can be seen as a sign that SoftBank is taking a more proactive global strategy that isn't limited to international telecom operations, but also involves the Internet and the media," Barclays analyst Keiichi Yoneshima said in a client note.

"The Sprint deal has expanded its international businesses and those moves will likely accelerate." Son is one to think big.

Last year, he told shareholders that he was aiming to turn Japan's third-largest telecom company into a global behemoth that outpaces the likes of ExxonMobil, JPMorgan and Apple.

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