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.
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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)