SoftBank prepares listing of mobile unit

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SoftBank has been making headlines with his $100 billion Vision Fund and Son's aggressive pace of deal making across internet startups globally.

Analysts said SoftBank could be attracted by Swiss Re's research capabilities and undervalued stock, while the company's cash generation could prove attractive.

"The portfolio has grown too broad", said Mitsushige Akino, an executive officer with Ichiyoshi Asset Management in Tokyo. SoftBank reported profit of $8.4 billion, while quarterly sales rose 3.9% to $22 billion.

The separation of SoftBank's activities, essentially into investing and telecommunications arms, will bring "greater clarity and thereby better respond to the various needs of investors", SoftBank said on Wednesday.

SoftBank Group Corp, Yahoo Japan Corp and Aeon Co Ltd plan to launch an online retail business, national broadcaster NHK reported on Friday. "This way I can also spend more time on longer-term global corporate strategy". The funds invested $34B a year ago, according to Dealogic.

Earnings from domestic operations may come under pressure as billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani's Rakuten plans to become the country's fourth major mobile-phone operator. Son, whose acquisition of Vodafone's Japan business in 2006 was the industry's biggest shakeup in recent history, has said he welcomes the competition.

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The company saw a huge quarter for the period ending in December, largely on the back of results from its US subsidiary, Sprint. This would be below the 33.3 percent threshold above which SoftBank would be required to make a bid for the entire company, according to Swiss takeover rules.

A finance industry source said Swiss Re had always been looking for an anchor shareholder who would recognise the full value of the company.

On Wednesday, SoftBank said it was planning to raise further funds that could be used to shore up its finances or to make further investments by listing its domestic telecoms unit.

The Vision Fund contributed 236.4 billion yen to operating profit in the nine months ended December, the company said.

The announcement comes almost a month after SoftBank said it was considering listing the business, with local media estimating the proceeds at $18 billion - potentially the biggest IPO by a Japanese company in nearly two decades. Lane thinks one reason for the valuation gap is that shareholders are still largely telecom investors who want healthy dividend payouts, which SoftBank doesn't pay.

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