Japan's Softbank in talks for $12.8 billion Sprint stake

Softbank Corp <9984.T>, Japan's third-largest mobile carrier, is in talks to buy a majority stake in U.S. telecoms company Sprint Nextel Corp in a deal worth more than 1 trillion yen ($12.8 billion), a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

A Softbank spokeswoman told Reuters the company had no immediate comment and was checking earlier local media reports on the talks. No one from Sprint was immediately available for comment.

Sprint Nextel, worth $15.12 billion at Wednesday's close, is the third-largest U.S. carrier, and had more than 56 million users at end-June. Sprint is considering a counter-bid for wireless service provider MetroPCS, which has agreed to merge with Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile USA, a source told Reuters earlier this week.

Softbank, founded and led by Masayoshi Son - Japan's second-richest man, according to Forbes - was the first of Japan's leading mobile carriers to offer Apple Inc's iPhone in Japan.

The company, which has grown from a packaged software distributor 30 years ago into a broad telecoms group worth more than $40 billion, took over Vodafone Japan in 2006. As it seeks to gain market share from rival KDDI Corp <9433.T>, Softbank said earlier this month it would buy eAccess Ltd <9427.T> in a $1.84 billion deal, saying this would give the firm a total of 39 million users.

Japanese media said a Sprint deal would make it cheaper for Softbank to procure smartphones and other mobile devices.

Japanese companies made a record 642 cross-border deals last year, according to Thomson Reuters data. Buoyed by a stronger yen, the value of all outbound deals rose to $69.5 billion, up 81 percent from 2010, also a record.

The biggest foreign acquisition by a Japanese company to date was Japan Tobacco's <2914.T> 1.8 trillion yen buy of UK tobacco firm Gallaher in 2007.

(Reporting by Mari Saito, Taro Fuse and James Topham; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)