Are we watching two companies engaging in the usual mergers and acquisition maneuvering between rivals? Or are the daily moves and countermoves of SoftBank and DISH Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH), as they eye a pot containing Sprint Nextel Corporation (NYSE:S) and Clearwire Corporation (NASDAQ:CLWR), more reminiscent of high-stakes five-card stud?
First card — face down, second card – face up
SoftBank is showing the Ace of Diamonds, and bids $20.1 billion dollars for a 70% share of Sprint, perhaps trying to bluff anyone else into dropping out. Interesting that it gives Sprint $8 billion up front, followed by Sprint signing a deal to buy the rest of its networking partner, Clearwire, that it didn’t already own.
Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank, has his poker face on, but it’s obvious to Charlie Ergen, DISH CEO and a former professional gambler, that Clearwire Corporation (NASDAQ:CLWR) and its spectrum is an essential element in SoftBank’s plans.
So, DISH Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH), with the Ten of Clubs showing, doesn’t drop out. Instead, it surprises SoftBank (and the rest of the peanut gallery) with a $2.5 billion dollar counteroffer to Sprint Nextel Corporation (NYSE:S)’s $2.2 billion Clearwire bid. Ergen must think that if DISH starts a bidding war for Clearwire, SoftBank might withdraw its financial support from Sprint’s bid.
Third card — face up
SoftBank is dealt the Two of Diamonds. DISH draws the Queen of Spades.
Son meets that, and raises with a declaration that the DISH bid is “illusory.”
DISH Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH) meets that, and raises by tattling to the Federal Communications Commission about SoftBanks ties to UTStarcom, a company that settled bribery charges in 2009 with the Department of Justice.
Not to be outdone, Son raises that with an alleged threat to investment bankers not to give DISH any financing, or risk losing the chance to partake in underwriting Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba’s much-anticipated IPO. SoftBank owns one-third of Alibaba.
DISH Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH) meets that with another complaint to the FCC: “If SoftBank has the power to influence crucial financing decisions of a Chinese company … then the proposed foreign ownership [SoftBank is a Japanese company] needs to be assessed in light of this Chinese company, as well.”
DISH also gets a start with its financing by selling $2.6 billion worth of notes, and reportedly has four banks lined up for more loans.
Fourth card — face up
SoftBank is dealt the Four of Diamonds, and DISH Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH) the Queen of Clubs.
SoftBank raises by, it is assumed, bankrolling a higher bid from Sprint for Clearwire after it looks less likely that Clearwire’s minority stockholders would vote for Sprint’s original offer. After all, Son has said, “[I]n the Sprint-SoftBank transaction, Clearwire’s spectrum is the key.”