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SoftBank's profit tops estimates as Sprint gets on track

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SoftBank Group Corp reported better-than-projected second-quarter profit, with the wireless and internet businesses in Japan bringing in cash while Sprint Corp shows signs of improvement.

[TOKYO] SoftBank Group Corp reported better-than-projected second-quarter profit, with the wireless and internet businesses in Japan bringing in cash while Sprint Corp shows signs of improvement.

Net income was 512.1 billion yen (S$6.78 billion) in the period ended Sept 30, the Tokyo-based company reported on Monday. That's more than the 446.9 billion yen average of analysts' projections compiled by Bloomberg. Operating income for the quarter was 334.7 billion yen, compared with their prediction for 313.9 billion yen.

Sprint's revival and steady earnings at home have freed founder Masayoshi Son to focus on his longer-term vision for a company that's made tens of billions investing in companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Supercell Oy.

Mr Son is betting on the future of connected devices with the US$32 billion acquisition of ARM Holdings Plc. Last month, he unveiled plans to form a new fund to invest as much as US$100 billion in the global technology industry.

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"I'm going to make investment decisions, looking for ways to coordinate the various businesses to find synergies," Mr Son said at a news conference.

"My role will be to orchestrate the entire thing."

SoftBank shares rose 1.2 per cent to 6,438 yen at the trading break in Tokyo. SoftBank has added about five per cent this year, compared with a near 10 per cent decline in the Nikkei 225 Stock Average.

The company also booked an investment loss of 58.1 billion yen, mainly on its investments in India, which include ride-booking startup Ola and e-commerce company Snapdeal. Of that, 29.6 billion yen was due to a currency impairment.

SoftBank sold its holdings in Supercell to Tencent this year for a 530.3 billion yen after-tax gain. The cash will go toward SoftBank's commitment to invest as much as US$25 billion into the new fund over the next five years.

The company has signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with the Saudi government, which will consider putting in as much as US$45 billion. Qatar and Abu Dhabi investor Mubadala Development Co are considering investing in what is tentatively named SoftBank Vision Fund, people familiar with the matter have said.

Mr Son has said the fund will become the biggest investor in the technology sector over the next decade. While it's not yet clear what this means for ARM, Mr Son has said the UK-based chip company will be a key building block for the Internet of Things and play a role in bringing about advanced artificial intelligence.

ARM posted sales of 14.4 billion yen, SoftBank reported Thursday.

SoftBank didn't issue forecasts for the fiscal year through March, for which analysts are projecting net income of 1.03 trillion yen on sales of 8.94 trillion. The phone unit served 32.3 million subscribers at the end of September, up slightly from March. With stable earnings from domestic operations, the focus will be on recovery at Sprint and balance sheet improvement.

"The most important thing is the domestic business, and as long as that is solid, pluses and minuses from smaller businesses won't be an influence," said Satoru Kikuchi, an analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc.

Sprint is attempting a make-or-break revitalisation plan led by chief executive officer Marcelo Claure. While the company has shown progress by reversing subscriber losses and finding alternate funding by mortgaging assets such as airwave licenses, other signs of a turnaround have been elusive.

The company reported mixed second-quarter results last week. While Sprint's subscriber base expanded, adding a net 347,000 postpaid users, revenue fell. A handset leasing program helped bolster profit, with net operating revenue growing for the first time in two years.

"Sprint is poised for a turnaround that would be rare even by American standards," Mr Son said at a news conference on Monday.

"I'm increasingly confident in the outcome."