* Dish abandons its pursuit of Sprint
* SoftBank CEO says considered T-Mobile buy as “Plan B”
* SoftBank sees Sprint cutting costs by $2 bln a year
By Mari Saito and Liana B. Baker
TOKYO/NEW YORK, June 21 (Reuters) - SoftBank Corp CEO Masayoshi Son said on Friday he was confident his company’s acquisition of Sprint Nextel Corp will be completed in early July after rival bidder Dish Network Corp bowed out.
SoftBank, a Japanese mobile network operator, is heading into the home stretch as it tries to push through the largest overseas acquisition by a Japanese company in history.
Sprint, the No. 3 U.S. mobile service provider, is also working with SoftBank to buy out small wireless company Clearwire Corp.
Dish on Friday made clear that it has abandoned efforts to buy Sprint. It said in a regulatory filing that it was returning to bondholders the $2.6 billion in debt it had raised to fund the proposed acquisition.
Son, SoftBank’s billionaire founder, told an annual shareholders meeting attended by more than 2,000 that Dish’s failure to raise its offer for Sprint this week brought the Japanese company closer to sealing the $21.6 billion deal.
The hard-driving executive also said his ambition would not end with closing the Sprint deal. He began his presentation with a simple slide that read “big liar,” explaining that he has been called this many times because of his far-reaching goals.
“Today I want to make another outlandish statement. That is to become the No. 1 company in the world,” Son said. “I know we can be the world’s top company in terms of profit, cashflow, shareholder value, in every sense.”
SoftBank last week raised its bid for Sprint by increasing its cash payments to shareholders to win their support, while reducing its direct capital investment in Sprint, which needs billions of dollars to beef up its network.
On Friday, Son played down worries that the reduced funding to Sprint might hinder the U.S. company’s ability to invest in new network infrastructure, saying the acquisition would allow Sprint to achieve average annual savings of 200 billion yen ($2 billion) over the next four years.
SoftBank still needs to win approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission as well as a positive vote from Sprint shareholders, who are due to vote on the deal on June 25.
Dish’s challenge, launched in April, forced SoftBank to consider other options, Son said, including buying No. 4 U.S. mobile carrier T-Mobile US Inc, which is 74 percent-owned by Deutsche Telekom AG.
Sprint moved on Thursday to take the upper hand in a related battle with Dish over Clearwire, raising its buyout offer to $5 per share. The raise won support from a key group of dissident Clearwire shareholders.
SoftBank shareholders applauded at Friday’s meeting when Son said Sprint’s bid had now won the support of Clearwire, which holds valuable wireless airwaves Sprint needs to compete.
Dish said earlier this week that it would turn its attention to winning Clearwire shares, but it has yet to respond to Sprint’s latest offer for the company.
SoftBank’s shares fell 1.8 percent on Friday to 5,360 yen, compared with a drop of 0.7 percent in the benchmark Nikkei ..
Son, a rare risk taker in Japan’s conservative corporate culture, started with just two other employees in the 1980s. Now he is looking to expand beyond the mature Japan market.
SoftBank’s shares fell to an eight-month low after it announced its Sprint bid last October, but since the start of this year they have climbed more than 70 percent as optimism mounted over the deal. The Nikkei is up nearly 25 percent this year.
Last month SoftBank shares rose as high as 6,100 yen, their best level since the dot-com bubble burst more than a decade ago.
Sprint shares fell 1.55 percent to $6.97 in early trade Friday.