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    9984   JP3436100006

SOFTBANK GROUP CORP.

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France's Iliad challenges Sprint for control of T-Mobile

07/31/2014 | 10:03pm EDT
The T-Mobile store sign is seen in Broomfield, Colorado

PARIS/NEW YORK (Reuters) - French telecommunications company Iliad SA (>> ILIAD) has made a surprise offer for T-Mobile US Inc (>> T-Mobile Us Inc), setting up a potential bidding war with Sprint Corp (>> Sprint Corp), the U.S. mobile carrier now controlled by Japan's Softbank Corp (>> Softbank Corp).

PARIS/NEW YORK (Reuters) - French telecommunications company Iliad SA (>> ILIAD) has made a surprise offer for T-Mobile US Inc (>> T-Mobile Us Inc), setting up a potential bidding war with Sprint Corp (>> Sprint Corp), the U.S. mobile carrier now controlled by Japan's Softbank Corp (>> Softbank Corp).

The approach will further shake up a U.S. media and telecoms market already in tumult as a series of U.S. cable and cellular operators have bid for rivals to cut costs amid slowing growth. The market and its relatively healthy margins remain alluring to some foreign operators like Softbank and Iliad, however.

Iliad, which has shaken up the French mobile and broadband market in the past decade with its cheap, pared-down subscriber plans, bid $15 billion (8.88 billion pounds) in cash for 56.6 percent of T-Mobile US at $33 per share, it said in a statement on Thursday.

The Paris-based company said its offer for the fourth-largest U.S. carrier values all of T-Mobile at $36.20 per share, a premium of 42 percent to the pre-announcement share price, once expected cost savings of $10 billion were taken into account.

That is less than the roughly $40 per share Sprint agreed to pay under the broad terms of an agreement worked out with Deutsche Telekom AG (>> Deutsche Telekom AG), T-Mobile's majority owner. The terms of that proposal, which followed months of talks and which was reported by Reuters in early June, would value T-Mobile at nearly $32 billion.

Deutsche Telekom and Sprint declined to comment. A spokesman for Softbank in Tokyo also declined to comment.

Despite Iliad's lower offer, three people close to the French company said founder Xavier Niel believes he has a strong card to play because his bid would not face the antitrust scrutiny that confronts Sprint in trying to merge the third and fourth-biggest U.S. mobile operators.

"SoftBank has been told in many very clear coded words that the Department of Justice and the FCC would probably not approve the acquisition," said Reed Hundt, a former chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. "There's no question to me that the FCC would say 'bienvenue'" to the proposed Iliad deal.

The FCC and Department of Justice expressed a desire earlier this year to have at least two more network operators competing against AT&T and Verizon.

The T-Mobile offer is Niel's most audacious attempt at extending his reach beyond France, Monaco and Israel, where he owns part of operator Golan Telecom. Still, his bid to enter the United States mobile market is a long shot, some investors and analysts say.

The French company specializes in broadband and lacks experience in mobile, T-Mobile's main business, having launched its mobile service only in 2012. It is also unfamiliar with the demands of competing in the United States, with its massive coverage needs and deep-pocketed competition from AT&T Inc (>> AT&T Inc.) and Verizon Communications Inc (>> Verizon Communications Inc.), the market leaders.

Iliad expects $10 billion in savings from the deal. While it provided no further details, sources familiar with the situation said the French upstart believes it could generate $1.5 billion to $2 billion in additional earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) per year by running T-Mobile in a more streamlined manner.

T-Mobile is inefficient and badly managed on the cost front, they argued.

Still, some analysts said the Iliad offer could falter on price alone.

"We are sceptical that T-Mobile and its shareholders, including Deutsche Telekom, will find this bid attractive," Credit Suisse analysts Joseph Mastrogiovanni and Michael Baresich wrote in a research note. "However, it could put pressure on Sprint to move sooner rather later.

EMPIRE BUILDING

Few doubt the scale of Neil's ambitions. The entrepreneur, an unknown outsider in France when he started out, has joined the elite, lunching with ministers, starting a tech school, and holding part ownership of the influential Le Monde newspaper.

He earned his first fortune from an adult chat and dating service on the Minitel, a rudimentary computer network that pre-dated the Internet in France. He then surfed on a wave of market liberalisation in telecoms to create Iliad.

In many ways Niel is similar to Masayoshi Son, the head of Softbank and his rival for T-Mobile US. Both have operated their companies as challengers who cut prices and take on larger rivals with bigger resources.

Niel sees the U.S. market as ripe for the kind of challenge Iliad mounted in France, where its entry into the mobile market in 2012 sent prices down 30 percent and hurt the profits of bigger rivals Orange SA (>> ORANGE SA) and SFR, as well as Bouygues SA (>> BOUYGUES). He ranks 133rd on Forbes' list of billionaires, with a net worth of $9.5 billion.

Son, who is also Sprint's chairman, has pledged to start a price war in the United States, and he has said industry consolidation would allow Sprint to compete more effectively against Verizon and AT&T. He owns 19.3 percent of Softbank and is 46th on the Forbes list, with a net worth of $18.4 billion.

T-MOBILE TURNAROUND

T-Mobile would appear well-suited for the role of challenger championed by Niel and Son. Last year, it turned around years of subscriber losses using a strategy that eliminated contracts, restructured plans and set off a race to slash prices across the industry.

Earlier on Thursday, T-Mobile posted a net profit after a year of losses, and reported the industry’s largest post-paid phone subscriber additions of the quarter.

T-Mobile Chief Executive Officer John Legere, known for his outspoken and sometimes abrasive style, has come to define T-Mobile’s new audacity, epitomized by his frontal attacks on competitors, offering to pay early termination fees for customers who defect from rivals, for example.

“We know this is a scale industry. Scale brings advantage,” T-Mobile Chief Financial Officer Braxton Carter told Reuters earlier on Thursday.

“What we’ve seen so far is a glimpse of what real competition in this industry looks like. If we could turbo-charge it, it could be an incredible opportunity to bring more competition to the market.”

BIG BITE FOR ILIAD

Iliad said it would finance its offer, which was earlier reported by the Wall Street Journal, through a mix of equity and debt, and that it already had the backing of unnamed international banks.

Nevertheless, the deal would be a big bite for Iliad. Its market capitalisation of just above $16 billion compared with about $25 billion for T-Mobile US.

T-Mobile owner Deustsche Telekom will now have the benefit of two bidders.

One person close to the German company also said a deal with Iliad had a certain appeal because of the lower risk of being blocked by U.S. regulators.

A second person said there were doubts whether Iliad's offer was competitive or could get financing, but added that it could be worth taking a discount to avoid heavy regulatory scrutiny.

Three years ago, regulators rejected AT&T's $39 billion bid for T-Mobile US, which resulted in AT&T paying Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile's full owner, a reverse break-up fee of $6 billion in cash and U.S. mobile assets.

T-Mobile shares closed up 6.5 percent at $32.94 on the New York Stock Exchange, just below the Iliad offer price. Sprint shares were down 5.3 percent at $7.35.

(porting by Edwin Chan in San Francisco, Supantha Mukherjee in Bangalore, Marina Lopes, Diane Bartz and Alina Selyukh in Washington, Harro Ten Wolde and Peter Maushagen in Frankfurt, Teppei Kasai in Tokyo; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Greg Mahlich, Tom Brown, Andre Grenon and Andrew Hay)

By Leila Abboud and Soyoung Kim


ę Reuters 2014
Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
AT&T INC. -0.67% 28.01 Delayed Quote.-2.61%
BOUYGUES 0.37% 32.83 Real-time Quote.-2.79%
CHALLENGER LIMITED -0.35% 5.67 End-of-day quote.-11.96%
DEUTSCHE TELEKOM AG -0.31% 17.75 Delayed Quote.19.06%
ILIAD -1.13% 113.55 Real-time Quote.-31.68%
ORANGE -3.11% 9.342 Real-time Quote.-1.10%
SOFTBANK CORP. -0.92% 1456 End-of-day quote.12.61%
SOFTBANK GROUP CORP. -4.84% 6745 End-of-day quote.-16.29%
SPRINT CORPORATION 0.00%End-of-day quote.0.00%
VERIZON COMMUNICATIONS -0.85% 55.72 Delayed Quote.-4.34%
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Financials
Sales 2022 5 953 B 54 205 M 54 205 M
Net income 2022 1 045 B 9 517 M 9 517 M
Net Debt 2022 13 879 B 126 B 126 B
P/E ratio 2022 12,2x
Yield 2022 0,67%
Capitalization 11 554 B 105 B 105 B
EV / Sales 2022 4,27x
EV / Sales 2023 4,12x
Nbr of Employees 58 786
Free-Float 47,1%
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SoftBank Group Corp. Technical Analysis Chart | 9984 | JP3436100006 | MarketScreener
Technical analysis trends SOFTBANK GROUP CORP.
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Mean consensus BUY
Number of Analysts 15
Last Close Price 6 745,00 JPY
Average target price 11 321,71 JPY
Spread / Average Target 67,9%
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Managers and Directors
Masayoshi Son Chairman & Executive President
Yoshimitsu Goto CFO, Director & Senior Managing Executive Officer
Raul Marcelo Claure Chief Operating Officer & Executive Vice President
Tim Mackey Chief Legal Officer & Group Compliance Officer
Masami Iijima Independent Outside Director
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