UPDATE 2-Softbank near $20 bln deal for 70 pct of Sprint-source

Sun Oct 14, 2012 7:54pm EDT

By Nadia Damouni

NEW YORK Oct 14 (Reuters) - Japanese mobile operator Softbank Corp is near a $20 billion deal to acquire control of U.S. carrier Sprint Nextel Corp, a source familiar with the matter said, giving Sprint ammunition to shore up its balance sheet and potentially acquire peers.

The deal, which could come as soon as Monday, is expected to be structured in two parts: Softbank will provide about $8 billion of new capital and acquire an additional $12 billion shares from Sprint holders, the source said.

Sprint first confirmed last Thursday that it was in talks with Softbank about an investment that could involve a change in control. Sources familiar with the Japanese company's thinking have said Softbank has been seeking a foothold in the U.S. market since last summer.

If Softbank does end up taking 70 percent of Sprint for $20 billion, that would imply the No. 3 U.S. wireless company was worth about $28.6 billion, some two-thirds greater than its market capitalization at Friday's close.

At $20 billion, the deal would also rank as the largest ever overseas acquisition by a Japanese company, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Analysts and investors widely expect that if Sprint and Softbank tie up, Sprint could use any equity infusion to acquire the part of Clearwire Corp it does not already own, particularly given that company's attractive spectrum assets.

Sprint representatives were not immediately available to comment. A Clearwire spokesman declined comment. A Softbank spokesman said he had no immediate comment and was still checking media reports.

CNBC's David Faber reported the news earlier on Sunday.

The source of Softbank's financing was also not immediately clear. People familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday that the company was in talks with three Japanese banks to borrow up to $23 billion for a deal.

Japanese media have reported that with Sprint in hand, Softbank might look to take a second step as well and acquire smaller U.S. carrier MetroPCS as well.

While Sprint's long interest in MetroPCS is well known, that company already agreed earlier this month to merge with T-Mobile USA, part of Deutsche Telekom AG.

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