By Mari Saito
TOKYO (Reuters) - SoftBank Corp CEO Masayoshi Son said on Friday he was confident his company's acquisition of Sprint Nextel Corp will be completed in early July after rival bidder Dish Network Corp failed to make a counter move this week.
SoftBank, a Japanese mobile network operator, is heading into the home stretch as it tries to push through Japan's biggest ever acquisition, while aggressive dealmaker Dish has loomed as a potential spoiler with rival offers for Sprint and its Clearwire Corp subsidiary.
Son, SoftBank's billionaire founder, said Dish's failure to raise its offer for Sprint before a deadline early this week brought the Japanese company closer to sealing the $21.6 billion deal, but warned that its U.S. rival could make a surprise move before a Sprint shareholders' meeting on June 25.
"We don't know what could happen before the meeting but we took a big step forward after Dish missed the deadline to make a new proposal," Son told an annual shareholders' gathering attended by more than 2,000.
Dish's challenge launched in April had forced SoftBank to consider other options, Son said, including buying No. 4 U.S. mobile carrier T-Mobile US Inc, which is 74 percent owned by Deutsche Telekom AG.
Instead, SoftBank raised its bid last week and bumped up the cash portion, in order to win support from several existing Sprint shareholders who had favored Dish's offer, while reducing its capital injection into the company.
On Friday, Son played down worries that the reduced funding to Sprint might hinder the U.S. company's ability to invest in new network infrastructure, saying the acquisition would allow it to achieve average annual savings of 200 billion yen ($2 billion) over the next four years.
Sprint moved on Thursday to take the upper hand in a separate battle with Dish over control of Clearwire Corp, raising its buyout offer to $5 per share, which it said had helped to win support from a key group of dissident Clearwire shareholders.
SoftBank shareholders applauded at Friday's meeting when Son said Sprint's bid had now won the support of Clearwire, which holds valuable wireless airwaves Sprint needs to update its network.
SoftBank's shares fell 1.8 percent on Friday to 5,360 yen, worse than the Nikkei benchmark's 0.7 percent drop.
SoftBank's shares fell to an eight-month low after it announced its Sprint bid last October, but since the start of this year they have climbed more than 70 percent as optimism mounted over the deal, while the Nikkei is up nearly 25 percent.
Last month SoftBank rose as high as 6,100 yen, its highest since the dot-com bubble burst more than a decade ago.
(Reporting by Mari Saito; Writing by Sophie Knight; Editing by Edmund Klamann)