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DISH and Sprint: A Match Made in America?

By Michael Lewis - Apr 16, 2013 at 9:00PM

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In a major M&A twist, DISH has put in a $25 billion bid for Sprint Nextel. The merger would create a telecom behemoth. Will it happen?

Before Monday, DISH Network (DISH 6.04%) and analysts were busy speculating whether it or telecom giant Sprint Nextel (S) would be successful in a bid for beleaguered wireless company Clearwire (NASDAQ: CLWR). This week brought an entirely different ballgame, with DISH submitting a $25 billion proposal for not Clearwire -- but Sprint. In addition, DISH would extend Sprint's existing offer for Clearwire. This is a massively ambitious undertaking by the satellite-television company and pits it against Japan-based Softbank, the $50 billion telecom that originally bid for Sprint. Here's what you need to know.

The rundown
Sprint Nextel's shares hit a multiyear high on Monday, soaring as high as 18% before the market as a whole plummeted.

The surge came as a result of the surprise bid from satellite-TV provider DISH, in a continuing effort to shift the direction of a business that is more and more under fire from content providers, Internet pioneers, and a picky consumer. The bid came in at $25.5 billion -- a combination of cash and DISH stock.

The bid is compelling, even in the face of the existing offer from Softbank for just over $20 billion. Both DISH and Sprint are U.S.-based companies and together would create a subscriber base of more than 60 million and leverage the two companies' products -- creating television, Internet, and mobile-service bundles for customers. It would be the one merger that would immediately make DISH a formidable opponent to traditional telecoms and cable companies. Before this offer, DISH made a bid for Clearwire, shopped MetroPCS and T-Mobile USA, and explored a merger with competitor DIRECTV.

What are the chances that the merger will go through, and what would it look like for investors?

Before we go any further, know that this bid faces tremendous headwinds. Sprint has already used billions in financing from Softbank. The two have a deep existing relationship, and the Japanese telecom isn't likely to let go of its stranglehold without a fight.

In addition, DISH would become a highly, highly leveraged beast in the process -- much more so than today. Still, the newly formed company's synergies could outweigh the cost of joining. Management has said that the company would create more than $37 billion in synergies and growth opportunities, as well as $11 billion in cost savings.

Hold the phone
Though Sprint's shares skyrocketed today, and the move could spark an even greater bidding war between DISH and Softbank, hold off on any M&A-themed investments. The offer is subject to activists, regulators, and even competitors' shifting strategies. We don't know yet how those things might play out.

Whatever the case, this is the most compelling story yet in the too-hot-to-touch telecom consolidation news of 2013.

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