Clearwire (CLWR) and U.S. Cellular (USM), not MetroPCS, may be behind Sprint Nextel’s delay in filing a proxy statement outlining its proposed merger with Japan’s Softbank. Last week Sprint Nextel (S) and Softbank said their filing would be delayed until December 21, and late yesterday Reuters reported that the delay was due to Sprint Nextel’s ongoing negotiations with Clearwire and U.S. Cellular. Sprint Nextel owns a controlling interest in Clearwire, and therefore shares some responsibility for the troubled carrier’s debt; the two are said to be in negotiations over an interest payment.
Last month, Sprint Nextel agreed to pay U.S. Cellular $480 million for spectrum and about half a million customers in the Midwest. Apparently negotiations related to that deal are another reason the merger proxy with Softbank has not yet been filed.
The delay in filing the proxy set off a fresh round of speculation last week that Sprint was procrastinating in order to plan a bid for MetroPCS (PCS). MetroPCS has of course agreed to merge with T-Mobile, but the prepaid carrier’s shareholders are suing to block the deal and late last week investors bid up the stock in hopes that Sprint Nextel would swoop in with a higher bid at the 11th hour. (Sprint Nextel and MetroPCS discussed a merger earlier in the year, before both companies decided to align themselves with different partners.)
Today MetroPCS shares are off sharply, with investors apparently losing hope in a counteroffer. But analyst Kevin Smithen of Macquarie Securities believes investors who hold onto MetroPCS will be rewarded. “We feel it would be foolish for Sprint to let T-Mo close on PCS under current terms and still believe that a counteroffer is possible, despite the Reuters report,” he wrote today. “If Sprint has definitively decided to pass on PCS ahead of Softbank deal regulatory approval, we expect that Sprint CEO Hesse, CFO Euteneur, or Softbank Chairman Masa-Son would come out and say it publicly, not leak it in a press report.”
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