Japan’s NTT eyes taking wireless unit Docomo private in potential $38 billion offer

a sign on a pole: The logo of NTT is didplayed at a building in Tokyo

© Reuters/ISSEI KATO
The logo of NTT is didplayed at a building in Tokyo

By Sam Nussey and Makiko Yamazaki

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (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 ($38 billion) and pave the way for price cuts in the sector.

The buyout will be discussed at a board meeting on Tuesday, NTT said in a statement following a Nikkei newspaper report on the matter. The value of the 34% of NTT Docomo Inc’s shares not owned by NTT is based on a 30% premium to Monday’s closing price, Reuters calculations showed.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of NTT Docomo is seen during its flagship shop's reopening event in Tokyo

© Reuters/TORU HANAI
FILE PHOTO: The logo of NTT Docomo is seen during its flagship shop’s reopening event in Tokyo

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% stake.

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

NTT shares fell 4% in early trading, while NTT Docomo shares were untraded with a glut of buy orders.

KDDI and SoftBank shares also fell around 4%, extending the slide since the previous prime minister, Shinzo Abe, announced plans to resign on Aug. 28.

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.

A buyout would mark the end of a prominent “parent-child” listing that are frowned on in other economies but remain common in Japan.

“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 Corp sells down its stake in its wireless unit, forgoing stable dividend income in favour of a cash injection as it focuses on investing.

(Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki and Sam Nussey; Editing by Richard Pullin and Christopher Cushing)

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