SoftBank Group bought more shares in Sprint because it is confident of turning around the ailing US operator, it said in a statement. It has also offered CEO Marcelo Claure a job through May 31, 2019 and the opportunity to gain an extra 10 million shares of the Overland Park-based company.
A report earlier this week said SoftBank had, over the past year, floated a sale to possible suitors, include Comcast and Altice.
But now the company believes it has found a turnaround strategy based on improving Sprint’s network and an approach to lease financing that is designed to improve its balance sheet.
“In light of these and other turnaround initiatives, the Company is confident in Sprint’s future prospects, and therefore decided to carry out the Additional Purchases,” said the statement.
SoftBank purchased 22.9 million additional shares at an average price of $3.8, representing a total investment of $87 million. The purchase was made through a wholly-owned subsidiary called Galaxy Investment Holdings. Including this latest purchase, SoftBank holds 80 per cent of Sprint’s common stock.
Following the failure of an attempted merger with T-Mobile US, as well as talks with other potential buyers such as Comcast and Altice, SoftBank has resolved to revive Sprint. The appointment of Marcelo Claure last summer was a sign of how SoftBank is intent on this strategy.
Part of its approach is to improve network quality, without spending excessive sums. It is backing a deployment of thousands of small cells to boost coverage, costing less than a conventional network upgrade.
A second part of its strategy is a lease financing structure that will free up cash to spend on network improvements. The company is setting up two standalone equipment leasing firms for networks and handsets, which allows it to remove the cost of procurement from its own balance sheet. Sprint spent $44 million on equipment (network and handsets) in the most recent quarter.
SoftBank will take a minority stake in the handset leasing business along with several unnamed partners, but has not disclosed how much it expected to invest. Details of the network equipment leasing company are still being finalised.
Meanwhile Claure’s extension comes as his current contract ($1.5 million salary) was due to run out next week. In order to gain the extra 10 million shares he has to give up pay raises and increases to his short-term incentive bonuses and forgo any long-term incentive bonuses. Moreover, Claure needs to push Sprint’s $3.85 stock price to $8, a level it hasn’t seen since he came aboard a year ago.