T-Mobile U.S. explores takeover of Sprint: source

(Reuters) – U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile US Inc is exploring taking over rival Sprint Corp in an all-stock deal, after SoftBank Group Corp offered to give up its majority ownership of Sprint, a person familiar with the matter said.

The latest negotiations come after Reuters reported earlier this year that Japan’s SoftBank was prepared to give up control of Sprint to clinch a merger with T-Mobile, and only retain a minority stake in the combined company.

Sprint and T-Mobile, which is controlled by Germany’s Deutsche Telekom AG, are still weeks away from an agreement, and have not settled on a share exchange ratio or even started performing due diligence on each other, the source added.

The companies have agreed, however, that John Legere, T-Mobile’s outspoken chief executive, would run the combined company should there be a deal, according to the source, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential negotiations.

Both Sprint and T-Mobile did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sprint’s shares rose 8.2 percent, while T-Mobile’s shares were up nearly 5.3 percent after CNBC first reported on the progress of the talks.

Despite potential antitrust risks, investors have long expected a deal between T-Mobile and Sprint, the third- and fourth-largest U.S. wireless service providers, hoping for cost cuts and other synergies.

T-Mobile has been gaining share from larger U.S. competitors AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc in a saturated U.S. wireless market, through network improvements and lower prices.

Sprint, which had earlier approached cable company Charter Communications Inc about a potential merger, has now put plans for a bid for Charter on the back burner as it focuses on negotiations with T-Mobile, the source said.

French cable mogul Patrick Drahi’s Altice USA Inc, however, is continuing to work on a potential bid for Charter, another source said. Altice declined to comment while Charter did not respond to a request for comment.

Last month, Sprint’s chief executive said an announcement on merger talks should come in the “near future.”

SoftBank previously abandoned talks to acquire T-Mobile and merge it with Sprint three years ago, amid opposition from U.S. antitrust regulators. That deal would have put SoftBank in control of the merged company, with Deutsche Telekom becoming a minority shareholder.

Since then, T-Mobile has overtaken Sprint in market capitalization – the company is valued at about $51 billion, while Sprint has a market value of about $34 billion.

Additional reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal and Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Jonathan Oatis

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Uber reviews Asia business amid U.S. bribery probe: source

(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL], which is the subject of a U.S. federal probe into whether it broke bribery laws, has started a review of its Asia operations and notified U.S. authorities about payments made by staff to police officers in Indonesia, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The review comes after Uber said in August it was cooperating with a preliminary investigation led by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) into whether its managers violated U.S. laws against bribery of foreign officials, specifically the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Uber has hired law firm O‘Melveny & Myers LLP to review its Asia operations. It previously hired the firm to investigate how it obtained the medical records of an Indian woman who was raped by an Uber driver in 2014, Reuters reported in June.

Bloomberg first reported Uber’s review of its Asia operations. It said O’Melveny & Myers was examining records of payments made in Asia and interviewing employees. (bloom.bg/2xdk6PT)

It quoted people with knowledge of the matter as saying that late last year, an Uber employee in Jakarta made multiple, small payments to police on the understanding that Uber would be permitted to continue operating from an office located in a non-business zone.

Uber fired the employee and placed the head of the Indonesian business who approved the expense report on a leave of absence, Bloomberg said, citing the sources. The head has since left the company, it reported.

Jakarta Police spokesman Argo Yuwono told Reuters there was no investigation into any payments. He also said jurisdiction over location permits resided with the local government, not police.

Uber motorcycle taxi drivers drive on a street in Jakarta, Indonesia September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Uber declined to comment when contacted by Reuters. The U.S. Department of Justice could not be reached for comment outside of regular U.S. business hours.

The DOJ is focusing on suspicious activity in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea, Bloomberg reported. Uber’s law firm is also reviewing financial arrangements with Malaysia’s government that may have influenced lawmakers there, it said.

Uber’s financial relationship with Malaysian government-linked agencies includes a $30 million investment by the country’s second-largest pension fund, Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (KWAP). Uber also participated in an entrepreneurship programme initiated by the state-backed Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC).

The investment and participation were followed by passage of ride-sharing laws in July.

KWAP declined to comment when contacted by Reuters. MaGIC said “we strongly refute involvement in any quid-pro-quo arrangements.”

The DOJ investigation is the latest in a series of worldwide legal wrangling at Uber, which has also made headlines with allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace and executive misconduct.

Last month, Uber appointed Dara Khosrowshahi, who led travel-booking website operator Expedia Inc (EXPE.O) for 12 years, as chief executive to succeed Travis Kalanick who was ousted in June.

Reporting by Ismail Shakil in BENGAURU, Joe Menn in SAN FRANCISCO, Liz Lee in KUALA LUMPUR, Cindy Silviana and Augustinus Beo Da Costa in JAKARTA, Aradhana Aravindan in SINGAPORE; Editing by Leslie Adler and Christopher Cushing

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New Zealand election could put an obstacle in path to nailing TPP deal

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – If New Zealanders vote this weekend to change who governs them, that could create an obstacle to plans by members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to finalize a trade deal in November.

After President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from TPP early this year, the group has 11 members. New Zealand and Japan have led the way in saying they remain committed to a deal to cut trade barriers in the Asia-Pacific region.

New Zealand’s opposition Labour Party, which is neck-and-neck with the ruling National Party in Saturday’s election, says it would renegotiate the TPP to accommodate its proposed ban on foreign ownership of existing properties.

Historically, both political parties have championed free trade.

Some analysts say that the plan by Labour, if it wins, might prompt other TPP members to make fresh demands, stalling the agreement or even leaving New Zealand out.

“It’s a real risk that other countries will seize the opportunity to find the parts that they don’t like about the deal and try to change them,” said Daniel Kalderimis, partner at Wellington law firm Chapman Tripp.

Todd McClay, New Zealand’s trade minister, told Reuters he expected “a positive decision” when ministers of the 11 remaining TPP nations meet during November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam.


FILE PHOTO – Shoppers stand outside a retail store displaying a sales sign in central Wellington, New Zealand, July 3, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

He said Labour’s plans were risky given the 11 have already said no to renegotiating the pact’s terms.

“What’s more likely to happen is the other countries say no, we’ve reached agreement, we said no renegotiation,” said McClay, who is due to co-chair the meeting if the National Party retains power in New Zealand.

Analysts say the ban Labour advocates would only have a minimal impact on the housing market, given that foreigners own a small percentage of homes in New Zealand, though the numbers are highly contested.

The nationalist New Zealand First Party, which could be a kingmaker after the vote, has also said it would renegotiate the TPP but would unlikely have enough leverage to make this a bottom-line in a coalition government, analysts say.

Jacinda Ardern, Labour leader, has said a government led by her party would still want to be part of TPP but that its “housing bottom line” was firm.

The fact that Labour has not said it would walk away from the TPP was significant, analysts said. Asked whether this meant Labour could give in on the ban if push came to shove, Labour trade spokesman David Parker said it would be “wrong to read that into it”.

John Ballingall, deputy chief executive of the independent New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, said he believes it is “very unlikely” that Labour would withdraw from TPP based on its concerns about foreign buyers of existing houses, as the trade pact would have many big benefits for the country.

If Labour does get power, “my suspicion would be that if push came to shove, they would support TPP,” Ballingall said.

Reporting by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Richard Borsuk

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Toshiba selects Bain group as buyer of its memory chip business: sources

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Toshiba Corp (6502.T) has selected a group led by U.S. private equity firm Bain Capital to buy its prized memory chip unit, three people with knowledge of the talks said on Wednesday, the latest dramatic twist to a highly contentious auction.

The decision was made by Toshiba’s board and will be announced later on Wednesday, two sources said. The people declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak on the matter.

Toshiba declined comment. A representative for Bain was not immediately available for comment.

The auction of the world’s No. 2 producer of NAND semiconductors has been marked by a slew of revised bids, changing alliances among suitors, as well as legal wrangling from chip joint venture partner Western Digital Corp (WDC.O) – a threat that still hangs over the sale.

Three separate sources had told Reuters late Tuesday that Toshiba was shifting back towards selling the unit to a group backed by Western Digital.

But one of people speaking on Wednesday said Western Digital had failed to agree on limits to the U.S. firm’s future stake in the chip business that had been demanded by Toshiba.

A representative for Western Digital was not immediately available for comment.

The embattled Japanese conglomerate has little time to waste and has been under pressure from its lenders to clinch a deal this month to ensure enough time for regulatory reviews so that it can finish the sale by the end of the financial year.

If it doesn‘t, it won’t have the funds to plug a huge hole in its finances and could be delisted. Even without that problem staring it in the face, the semiconductor business requires huge amounts of investment and Toshiba’s chip unit runs the danger of losing its competitive ability as rivals roll out big capital spending plans.

Bain has partnered with South Korean chipmaker SK Hynix Inc (000660.KS) and has also brought in U.S. tech firms such as Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Dell Inc [DI.UL], both buyers of Toshiba chips, to bolster its offer, which sources have said is worth some $22 billion.

SK Hynix declined to comment.

But a deal is likely to face fierce opposition from rival bidder Western Digital, which argues any pact will need its consent.

The U.S. firm has already taken the dispute to the International Court of Arbitration to prevent the sale and a source with knowledge of the matter has said it is prepared to seek an immediate court injunction.

Reporting by Taro Fuse and Kentaro Hamada; Additional reporting by Makiko Yamazaki, Junko Fujita, Tom Wilson in Tokyo and Joyce Lee in Seoul; Writing by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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