NTT eyes taking wireless unit Docomo private in $38 bn offer

Japan’s NTT said it is looking at taking full control of its wireless carrier business in a deal that could be worth around 4 trillion yen or £29.59 billion and pave the way for price cuts in the sector.
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The buyout will be discussed at a board meeting on Tuesday, NTT said in a statement. The value of the 34 percent of NTT Docomo’s shares not owned by NTT is based on a 30 percent premium to Monday’s closing price, Reuters calculations showed.

The move comes as Japan’s new prime minister Yoshihide Suga launches a fresh attempt to push the country’s three biggest mobile network providers into cutting fees. The government is NTT’s biggest shareholder, with a 34 percent stake.

A buyout will have broad implications for the sector, with any fee cuts likely to be followed by NTT Docomo peers KDDI and SoftBank, hitting profit margins.

NTT Docomo was spun off from Japan’s former state monopoly in 1992 as part of government efforts to drive competition in the sector. It listed in 1998.

“Post acquisition, Docomo will no longer be answerable to shareholders. If the government instructs it to cut prices, it will oblige,” Jefferies analyst Atul Goyal wrote in a client note.

The government wants lower fees to stimulate spending in other parts of the economy.

Pressure from Suga comes as carriers invest in building fifth-generation services widely seen as critical to ensuring Japan’s competitiveness.

Telecoms ministry efforts to enhance competition include backing Rakuten Inc’s entry into the sector this year. The e-commerce firm’s model of low-cost plans could come under strain, however, should broader prices fall.

Price pressure comes as SoftBank Group sells down its stake in its wireless unit, forgoing stable dividend income in favour of a cash injection as it focuses on investing.