Can Charlie Ergen's Sprint Bid Beat the Softbank Deal?

Shares of Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) have soared almost 14% as of 1:30 p.m. EDT on the news that DISH Network (NASDAQ: DISH  ) wants to buy the company. DISH investors are less enthusiastic about the idea: That stock has fallen 5.3%.

DISH chairman Charlie Ergen put together a $25.5 billion package of cash and DISH shares that he says is superior to the existing takeover bid from Japanese telecom Softbank. Sprint would take the place of Clearwire (UNKNOWN: CLWR.DL  ) , which Ergen has expressed interest in buying, and Sprint could become a proxy for his Clearwire interests as well. Ergen says the proposed deal stands whether or not Sprint buys Clearwire. What a wicked web we weave.

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If nothing else, DISH would provide cost savings, synergies, and technical assistance on a local level that Softbank would be hard-pressed to match.

However, the up-front monetary value of the Japanese deal seems stronger. The Softbank deal structure calls for the Japanese peer to take a 70% ownership stake for $20.1 billion and would value Sprint at a more generous $28.7 billion.

That being said, DISH can certainly put up a fight here. Ergen's arguments all ring true, and this structure would likely meet with fewer regulatory roadblocks than the Softbank idea. DISH doesn't compete with Sprint in any sense I can think of, and it's always hard to gain approval for the takeover of a major American business like Sprint by a foreign firm.

I don't hold any financial interest in the outcome of this three-way drama, but the Softbank bid always appealed to me. With eccentric billionaire Masayoshi Son at the rudder and a much stronger financial position, Sprint could shake up the wireless industry in a big way. This combination should have Verizon and AT&T sleeping with one eye open as a formerly marginal rival becomes a powerful wild card.

I'm also a fan of Ergen's wireless ambitions, but this deal would be less worrisome to other wireless companies. Instead, this tie-in would create a brand-new joker in the entertainment sector's deck of cards. Ergen wants to use wireless broadband networks to shoot personalized media streams into our living rooms, and that idea should scare the cable industry senseless.

With Sprint's considerable high-speed network by its side, DISH would provide a complete package of entertainment and communications services under one umbrella.

Whichever way this bidding war ends, America is left with at least one major industry shaken to the core. Either way, consumers will be treated to some fresh thinking, and investors are in for a wild ride. Add the drama's big players to your Foolish watchlist to keep an eye on what's next.

And don't forget the popcorn. This is a fun one to watch.

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  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2013, at 2:51 PM, spokanimal wrote:

    Dish began their involvement by making an offer for Clearwire that was superior to Sprint's. Clearly, dish values clearwire's vast spectrum holdings and clearwire's infrastructure that currently delivers service to 133 million POPs. Clearwire's infrastructure was built in 2009 and 2010, so it's also very "modern".

    Dish's bid for sprint may well be how they intend to acquire clearwire if sprint/softbank are otherwise succeeding in frustrating dish's clearwire bid. Indeed, once sprint "paid off" clearwire's brass to effecitvely flush their fiduciary duty to minority shareholders down the toilet by offering them a "cash-able, stock option scheme if they delivered clearwire to sprint... clearwire subsequently accepted horribly-dilutive $80 million loans from sprint that was designed to frustrate the dish bid and further the chances that clearwire's brass can secure their payoff cash.

    Clearwire's avoidance of it's fiduciary duty to clearwire's minority shareholders has now created overwhelming opposition among those shareholders to Sprint's ridiculously low, $2.97 offer. Crest financial is the primary lead against sprint's display of corporate malfeasance, and it's fair to say that Dish's bid for sprint is partially motivated by sprint's inability to curb Softbank's dictation that sprint act counter to American corporate ethics... principal of which is Clearwire's duty to act in the best interest of shareholders... not their own pocketbooks that Sprint seeks to pad.

    Central to virtually everything here is the big prize: Clearwire's massive spectrum holdings. Softbank's principle financier was refusing last december to sign off on their bid for sprint unless sprint was first able to secure more than 50% of clearwire by buying out Craig McCaw. Clearly, a large chunk of softbank's $20 billion offer for sprint is dependent on securing clearwire's spectrum for a fraction of it's actual value net of clearwire's debt. Similarly, dish bid for clearwire before it bid for sprint for a very good reason... because clearwire is the real prize... even if it means swallowing all of sprint to GET it.

    In the end, all of these guys are dreaming if they think clearwire's minority shareholders are going to sell out for less than half what the company is worth. Aside from sprint's de-facto "control" partners intel and comcast, nobody supports sprint's ridiculous $2.97 bid.....

    .... better to work with a more respectable Charlie Ergan than a crook like Dan Hesse.


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