SoftBank Group Corp. plans to halt talks to merge U.S. unit Sprint Corp. with T-Mobile US Inc. because of disagreements over ownership of the combined company, Nikkei reported, without saying where it got the information.
SoftBank will propose ending the talks as early as Tuesday, Nikkei said. The company had initially been open to having T-Mobile’s parent, Deutsche Telekom AG, control the combined entity, but SoftBank’s board decided Friday not to surrender that power, the news outlet said.
Sprint shares sank as much as 13 percent in New York trading, while T-Mobile fell as much as 5.9 percent. The companies had been ironing out final terms of the merger in the hopes of announcing a deal in mid- to late November, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg earlier this month.
Several SoftBank directors raised strategic concerns in the Friday meeting about not owning or controlling a wireless network in the U.S., though it wasn’t clear whether the board had decided to call off the talks, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News on Monday. While merger talks have been underway for months, the board members raised their concerns in the last few days because it’s now a make-or-break moment, with the sides very close to a deal, the person said, asking not to be identified discussing private deliberations.
A Deutsche Telekom spokesman had no immediate comment. Sprint, T-Mobile and SoftBank representatives didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.
Investors have cheered on a combination of T-Mobile, the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier, with No. 4 Sprint as a way to cut costs and forge a bigger competitor to take on AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. Without the merger, the industry could return to the intense price wars that have put pressure on profits for all four major carriers — to the delight of consumers, who have gotten heavy phone discounts and unlimited data service.
A deal between Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint and Bellevue, Washington-based T-Mobile would be certain to attract heavy scrutiny from regulators, since it would reduce the four largest carriers in the country to three. Under former President Barack Obama’s administration, officials fended off a previous attempt by SoftBank to merge Sprint with T-Mobile. The companies had been hoping their chances would improve under a more business-friendly Trump administration.
Deutsche Telekom, based on Bonn, Germany, has maintained throughout the talks this year with SoftBank that it should maintain control of the combined company. Tokyo-based SoftBank had been willing to accept a stock-for-stock merger that valued Sprint at our near its market price, with no premium, people familiar with the matter said last month.
— With assistance by Stefan Nicola, and Scott Moritz
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