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Sprint mum on M&A plans as quarterly loss narrows; shares down

FILE PHOTO: The logo of U.S. mobile network operator Sprint Corp is seen at a Sprint store in San Marcos, California August 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Anjali Athavaley

(Reuters) - Sprint Corp's (S.N) shares closed down 14 percent on Wednesday after the No. 4 U.S. wireless carrier did not give specifics on deals it would pursue, even as it narrowed its quarterly loss.

Investors had high hopes for specific details on merger discussions on the company's post-earnings conference call from Sprint Chairman Masayoshi Son, who is chief executive of Japan's SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T), Sprint's controlling shareholder.

Instead, he introduced a new tool that Sprint was launching for customers to extend their network coverage and said the company was generally interested in exploring opportunities for a deal.

"If there are opportunities, we would be very much open-minded," he said. "We are self-sufficient, so we are not in a rush."

Shares slid 14 percent to close at $7.70, marking Sprint's largest one-day percentage decline since November 2014.

Analysts said the company's lack of a tangible cost-cutting goal for 2017, coupled with no improved free cash flow forecast, also weighed on the stock.

The company added 42,000 subscribers who pay a monthly phone bill, an improvement from the year-earlier period and more than rivals AT&T Inc (T.N) and Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N). But the additions were not enough to generate investor enthusiasm.

"The bits of the business are moving in the wrong direction," said Jonathan Chaplin, an analyst at New Street Research, in an interview. "What that means in the context of M&A is their relative negotiating leverage is waning."

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission barred merger talks among telecommunications companies for over a year as it conducted an auction of airwaves from broadcasters for wireless use. Since the FCC-mandated quiet period concluded in late April, companies can now have discussions.

Reuters reported in February that SoftBank was positioning itself for deal talks with T-Mobile US Inc's (TMUS.O) top shareholder, Deutsche Telekom AG (DTEGn.DE), once the airwaves auction ended.

On a call with reporters on Wednesday, Sprint Chief Executive Marcelo Claure also said that at this time, Sprint did not intend to separately sell its spectrum because its holdings give it a competitive advantage.

Sprint's net loss slimmed to $283 million, or 7 cents per share, in its fiscal fourth quarter, ended March 31, from $554 million, or 14 cents per share, a year earlier.

Net operating revenue rose 5.8 percent to $8.54 billion.

Analysts, on average, expected a net loss of 4 cents per share on revenue of $7.93 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

(Additional reporting by Laharee Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Steve Orlofsky)