Comcast still has stake in Clearwire, as Dish raises bid

Tom Paine

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A few weeks ago, I did a brief piece on Comcast's history in the wireless business. In it, I stated that Comcast had sold its 9% stake in Clearwire. Although I understood that to be their intent, it hasn't happened yet. Thus Comcast has a role to play, albeit small, in the current Dish/Softbank battle to acquire Sprint. Getting control of Clearwire (Sprint currently owns 50%) is considered an important part of the endgame for both bidders.

Dish raised its offer for Clearwire to $4.40 per share yesterday, a 29% premium over Sprint's $3.40 offer, ahead of an expected vote at Clearwire's shareholder meeting on Friday (the Friday meeting has since been postponed). Prior to this bid, Comcast was supporting the Sprint offer, according to Sprint. Many analysts expect Sprint to come back again with a sweetened bid for Clearwire.

Comcast, Intel, and BrightHouse collectively own 26% of Clearwire. I would doubt that Comcast's primary interest here is maximizing profits on its Clearwire stake; it is peanuts for them. Rather, it is likely Comcast would be more than happy to keep Clearwire and Sprint out of competitor Dish's hands, although there may be other angles to consider.

Dish offered $25.5 billion to buy Sprint last month. Japan-based Softbank agreed in October to acquire 70% of Sprint for $20.1 billion, and also provide Sprint with a cash infusion of $8 billion to handle Clearwire-related expenses.

Also, in my earlier report I said that Comcast invested $1.5 billion in Clearwire, but Comcast's 2008 announcement said its investment was $1.05 billion, and as far as I know that was the extent of its direct investment although there may have been some other expenses it incurred related to its effort to market Clearwire services.


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