Softbank Using Alibaba IPO to Thwart Dish Network Offer for Sprint

Print Email

The saying is that all’s fair in love and war. Well, this cannot be love, so it must be war.

The Financial Times this morning is citing “two people familiar with the situation” who say that Softbank, which owns about one-third of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba, has been telling investment bankers that if they want a piece of Alibaba’s coming initial public offering (IPO), the banks had better pass on helping fund an offer from Dish Network Corp. (NASDAQ: DISH) for Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S). Softbank’s $20.1 billion offer for Sprint has been topped by an offer of $25.5 billion from Dish.

Alibaba’s IPO is the hottest thing on Wall Street since the IPO of Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB). The IPO is expected to take place in the fourth quarter of this year or early next year at a valuation in the neighborhood of $60 billion to $80 billion. Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ: YHOO) sold about half of its 40% stake in Alibaba back to the Chinese firm late last year for total consideration of about $7.6 billion. That placed a valuation of around $40 billion on Alibaba.

A consortium of nine banks, including Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), Credit Suisse (NYSE: CS), Deutsche Bank A.G. (NYSE: DB), HSBC Holdings PLC (NYSE: HBC), J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) recently refinanced $8 billion in Alibaba debt at lower interest, and the nine are believed to have the inside track on the coming IPO.

How credible is a threat from Softbank to withhold the IPO from banks that cooperate with Dish? Investment banks are almost desperate for profitable Asian business and Softbank’s message is pretty clear, even if the Japanese company has not said as much directly. But even though Softbank owns a big chunk of Alibaba, the Japanese probably cannot tell the Chinese which banks to use. The banks will get the message without having to be told.