* ISS says Sprint offer is Clearwire's best option
* Glass Lewis said Clearwire has good alternatives
* Clearwire shareholders to vote on deal May 21
By Sinead Carew
May 10 The biggest U.S. proxy advisory firms on
Friday issued conflicting opinions on Sprint Nextel Corp's
proposed takeover of Clearwire Corp, with ISS advising
Clearwire shareholders to vote in favor of the deal and Glass
Lewis urging them to vote against it.
Sprint, the No. 3 U.S. mobile service provider, already owns
just over 50 percent of Clearwire's shares and has agreed to pay
$2.97 per share for the rest.
Clearwire shareholders are due to vote on the hotly
contested deal at a special meeting on May 21. For the deal to
succeed, a majority of Clearwire's minority investors must
ISS, the biggest U.S. proxy advisory firm, said Clearwire
lacked any better options to keep the wireless service provider
Glass Lewis, the No. 2 U.S. proxy firm, said Sprint had
failed to provide a clear, compelling case to suggest that its
offer is the best alternative available to Clearwire.
Clearwire shares closed down 2 cents at $3.25 on Nasdaq.
Sprint shares rose a penny to $7.36 on the New York Stock
Clearwire said on Friday it continued to recommend the
Sprint deal and that Glass Lewis "reached the wrong conclusion"
and "failed to recognize the comprehensive process" that led
Clearwire to agree to the Sprint transaction.
Sprint said it was pleased with the ISS recommendation.
Several large minority shareholders, including Crest
Financial, which owns about 8 percent of the minority votes,
vehemently oppose the Sprint bid, saying it undervalues
Clearwire. Another minority shareholder, Aurelius Capital, sued
Clearwire's directors last month.
Crest, which has launched a proxy contest to block the deal,
said on Friday it strongly disagreed with ISS.
Crest also said it was taking steps to ensure that it could
potentially sue to seek fair value for its Clearwire shares in
the hope that a court would rule that Clearwire shares are worth
more than the Sprint offer price.
It noted that shareholders who vote for the deal would
forego their legal right to seek a higher valuation in court.
A group of four shareholders owning roughly 17 percent of
Clearwire's minority shares said last week they were unhappy
with Sprint's offer price. Mount Kellett, which led that
shareholder group, had no immediate comment on the advisory
ISS, which researches proxy issues and makes voting
recommendations to institutional investors, is closely watched
and often followed in disputed situations such as this.
But even with the ISS recommendation in favor of the deal,
Chris Gleason, a principal at Taran Asset Management, which
owns about 1 million Clearwire shares, said the deal has "zero
chance" of being approved at the May 21 meeting.
"It's not a situation where the vote is controlled by people
who vote with ISS," said Gleason, noting that hedge funds, which
represent a large amount of Clearwire shares, are not required
to vote in line with ISS.
Guggenheim analyst Shing Yin said the only way shareholders
would vote for the deal is if Sprint raises its offer: "I do
think that if they don't raise the bid they'll get voted down."
Glass Lewis said its view that Clearwire has other
alternatives is supported by an offer of $3.30 per share made in
January by Dish Network, and a recent offer from
Verizon Communications to buy Clearwire spectrum for $1
billion to $1.5 billion.
Glass Lewis also pointed to "more attractive lending offers
from both Crest and Aurelius."
But ISS said that certain governance provisions give Sprint
an effective veto over Clearwire's other options. It said the
Sprint offer appeared fair and that Clearwire appeared
"increasingly unviable on a stand-alone basis."