Softbank Profit Doubles as IPhones, IPads Lure Users

Softbank Corp., controlled by billionaire Masayoshi Son, doubled third-quarter profit as the Japanese mobile-phone operator lured new customers with Apple Inc. smartphones and tablet computers.

Net income rose to 65.9 billion yen ($724 million) in the three months ended December from 32.8 billion yen a year earlier, the Tokyo-based company said in a statement today. Sales gained 7.1 percent to 923.7 billion yen.

Softbank agreed in October to buy a $20 billion stake in Sprint Nextel Corp. to expand into the U.S., and it has acquired eAccess Ltd. in Japan to meet bandwidth demand from iPhone users. Sales of the Apple devices have helped Softbank boost earnings more than sevenfold during the past four years.

“Everything’s going well for Softbank, unlike DoCoMo,” said Hitoshi Hayakawa, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG. NTT DoCoMo Inc. is Japan’s largest wireless carrier.

DoCoMo said yesterday operating profit for the nine months ended Dec. 31 fell 5.6 percent from a year earlier to 702.2 billion yen, while net income increased 5.5 percent to 416.5 billion yen. The Tokyo-based company, which doesn’t offer the iPhone, had a net loss of subscribers in November, the first decline in more than five years.

Softbank’s operating profit, or sales minus the cost of goods sold and administrative expenses, will probably exceed 700 billion yen in the year ending March 31, the company said in October. That compares with the 739 billion-yen average of 18 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

The figure may surpass 800 billion yen in the year starting April 2014, Son told reporters in Tokyo today.

Sprint Probe

Softbank will also cooperate with regulators looking into its planned purchase of a 70 percent stake in Sprint, Son said. The U.S. Department of Justice has asked the Federal Communications Commissions to delay a review. The Softbank founder said in October he expected the deal to be scrutinized on national-security grounds.

The acquisition of the Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint’s 56.4 million mobile subscribers would increase Softbank’s customer base to 96 million in the U.S. and Japan, the Japanese company said in October. DoCoMo has 60.8 million.

Softbank is getting a bridge loan of as much as 1.65 trillion yen to finance the Sprint purchase, it said last month.

iPhone 5 Sales

In Japan, Softbank has narrowed the gap in subscribers with DoCoMo and KDDI Corp. by cutting basic fees and being the first in the country to offer the iPhone, adding the most net new users every year since 2007. By increasing smartphone subscribers that require more data, Softbank also raised average revenue per user.

“Sales of the iPhone 5 have been strong, contributing positively to our earnings,” Son said.

The company rose 2.7 percent to close at 3,260 yen before the earnings announcement. DoCoMo gained 3 percent and KDDI climbed 1 percent.

Softbank has also offered new shares of eAccess to companies including a Samsung Electronics Co. subsidiary following its takeover of the carrier.

Son is pursuing an acquisition strategy that counts on smartphone users migrating to faster wireless networks to surf the web and download or stream videos and music. Softbank is looking to ride the fastest growth in mobile communications since third-generation services started rolling out a decade ago with the emergence of Long-Term Evolution technology.

LTE subscriptions are projected to more than double this year to 198.1 million globally, according to projections from IHS Inc.’s iSuppli. Some of the world’s largest handset makers - - including Apple, Samsung and HTC Corp. -- support the technology.