SoftBank has agreed to sell US mobile phone distributor Brightstar in its latest asset disposal, effectively ending the Japanese conglomerate’s status as a significant telecoms operator.

The disposal of Brightstar would cement SoftBank’s transition into a global investor and asset manager following an agreement earlier this week to sell UK chip designer Arm for up to $40bn, and the recent sale of its stakes in T-Mobile US and its domestic telecoms business.

In a statement on Friday, SoftBank said it would sell its shares in Brightstar Global Group to a newly formed subsidiary of Brightstar Capital Partners, a private equity fund founded by Andrew Weinberg, a former chief operating officer of the lossmaking US wireless distributor.

The Japanese group is expected to retain its ties with Brightstar by acquiring a 25 per cent stake in the new subsidiary. SoftBank also plans to keep a 40 per cent stake in its listed domestic telecoms subsidiary, although it will no longer hold a majority stake in any telecoms asset.

The size of the transaction was not disclosed, but people close to the company said SoftBank made a loss on its $1.7bn investment in Brightstar that was completed in 2014. 

Brightstar, with annual sales of $9bn, was founded in 1997 by Marcelo Claure, who now serves as SoftBank’s chief operating officer after he was hired by founder Masayoshi Son following the Japanese group’s takeover.

Mr Claure was later asked to lead a turnround at US wireless carrier Sprint, which SoftBank acquired in 2013, and is credited with overseeing its recent merger with rival T-Mobile. Most recently, he was installed as chairman of WeWork to revive the lossmaking US property group backed by SoftBank’s $100bn Vision Fund.

 “I am incredibly proud of what Brightstar has accomplished over the years and excited for its future,” Mr Claure said in a statement on Friday.

With the recent disposals, SoftBank has well surpassed the target of an asset sale programme launched at the height of a coronavirus market rout in March. The programme was intended to fund $41bn in share buybacks and debt repayments.

The newly acquired cash will open a range of options for Mr Son as he explores taking more aggressive bets on publicly listed technology stocks and the potential delisting of SoftBank’s own shares.

Shares in SoftBank fell 1.1 per cent in Tokyo on Friday.

Source: Financial Times

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