UPDATE 2-Sprint shareholders give thumbs up to SoftBank deal
By Carey Gillam
OVERLAND PARK, Kan., June 25 (Reuters) - Shareholders of Sprint Nextel Corp voted on Tuesday in favor of a sweetened takeover offer from SoftBank Corp, ending a contentious takeover battle for the No. 3 U.S. wireless service provider.
Japan's SoftBank, which fought Dish Network Corp to buy Sprint, now just needs approval from the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. telecommunications regulator, to close the deal.
According to Sprint, about 80 percent of its shares outstanding were voted in favor of the $21.6 billion deal that would leave SoftBank with 78 percent ownership of the company.
Sprint said in a statement released after a sparsely attended meeting that it was sticking by its previous target for the deal to close in early July.
On June 10 SoftBank increased its bid to $21.6 billion from $20.1 billion and raised the cash component of the deal for shareholders by $4.5 billion, trumping Dish's bid and gaining support from Sprint's second biggest shareholder Paulson & Co. which had previously said it preferred Dish's bid.
Dish, which made a bid for Sprint on April 15, abandoned its efforts to buy the company after SoftBank raised its bid.
The SoftBank/Sprint deal would be Japan's biggest takeover of an overseas company. SoftBank's founder Masayoshi Son is looking to expand beyond the mature Japanese cellphone market.
Sprint needs investment from SoftBank to help it pay for a network upgrade and its proposed buy out of the minority shareholders of Clearwire Corp, in which Sprint already has a majority stake.
Last week Sprint had to raise its offer for wireless service provider Clearwire to $5 per share from $3.40 per share to fight off a rival bid of $4.40 per share from Dish.
Clearwire shareholders will vote on that deal on July 8.
Sprint shares were up 10 cents or 1.45 percent to $6.96 on the New York Stock Exchange after the news.
Shareholders attending the meeting said they were happy SoftBank had beaten Dish in the takeover battle.
"Long term this is better for the company," Rick Weir, a Kansas City based shareholder who is retired Sprint employee told Reuters at the meeting.
John Massman, another Kansas City shareholder, said SoftBank's financial strength won him over. He cited concerns that a Dish deal would have required Sprint to take on too much debt and could have resulted in a move of Sprint operations out of Kansas City to Dish's headquarters outside of Denver.
"I am not a big fan of foreign ownership but if Dish had gotten it a lot of jobs would have gone to Denver," he said.
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