SoftBank succeeds in bid to buy Uber shares

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(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

A consortium led by SoftBank Group Corp successfully bought a large number of shares of Uber Technologies Inc in a deal that values the ride-services firm at $48 billion, Uber said on Thursday, handing a victory to new Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi.

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The price is a roughly 30 percent discount to Uber's most recent valuation of $68 billion. The deal will trigger a number of changes in the way the board oversees the company, which is dealing with federal criminal probes, a high-stakes lawsuit and an overhaul of its workplace culture.

SoftBank and the rest of consortium, which includes Dragoneer Investment Group, will own approximately 17.5 percent of Uber, a person familiar with the matter said. That stake includes both a secondary share purchase from earlier investors and employees, as well as a $1.25 billion investment of fresh funding.

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The $1.25 billion investment will made at the older, higher valuation, the person said. Uber said the deal will close early next year.

SoftBank required a minimum threshold of a 14 percent stake of the company to proceed with the deal. SoftBank itself will keep a 15 percent stake, while the rest of the consortium will own approximately 3 percent, according to a second person familiar with the matter.

The investment is seen as a sign of support from the influential investors for Khosrowshahi, who took the job in August and has helped negotiate the deal. Uber is losing more than $1 billion each quarter, and a new cash infusion is critical.

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Uber will use the investment "to support our technology investments, fuel our growth, and strengthen our corporate governance," a spokesperson, who declined to be named, said.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on Thursday that the tender deal would be successful, citing unnamed sources. (http://on.wsj.com/2ChJNyS)

When the deal completed, the company will make governance changes, including expanding Uber's board from 11 to 17 members including four independent directors, limiting some early shareholders' voting power and cutting the control wielded by former chief executive Travis Kalanick.

"The stockholders did the smart thing. The price is less important than locking in the governance changes and securing the support of the world's most powerful technology investor," said Erik Gordon an entrepreneurship expert at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

"If the stockholders hadn't taken the price, the value of the company would have been battered by a return to stockholder infighting and the possibility of Kalanick's return," he said.

Rajeev Misra, chief executive of SoftBank's Vision Fund, a $98 billion tech investment vehicle, will join the Uber board. A second representative from SoftBank will join the board as part of the terms of the deal, a source familiar with the deal told Reuters.

Misra said in a statement that SoftBank has "tremendous confidence in Uber's leadership and employees."

Uber board members made their final concessions to pave the way for the SoftBank deal in early November. The company is also planning an initial public offering in 2019.

Some initial investors in the consortium, including General Atlantic, dropped out over disagreement about the price offered to shareholders, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son has taken a keen interest in ride-hailing companies around the world, and already has sizeable stakes in China's Didi, Brazil-based 99, India's Ola and Singapore Grab, all of which have competed with Uber.

The investment comes after a year of troubles for Uber, including a lawsuit by Alphabet Inc's self-driving car unit Waymo that alleges trade-secrets theft and federal investigations that span possible bribery of foreign officials in Asian countries and the use of software to evade regulators.

Over the past year, a former employee's charges of endemic sexual harassment led to an internal review, London said it is stripping Uber of its license and Uber revealed it had covered up a major hack.

In June, Kalanick was forced to step down, although he remains on the board and is still one of the largest stakeholders. (Reporting by Heather Somerville and Liana B. Baker in San Francisco. Additional reporting by by Laharee Chatterjee in Bengaluru. Writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Anil D'Silva, Richard Chang and Susan Thomas)

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