While a deal is not imminent, the two companies are involved in active negotiations and could announce an agreement prior to the end of the year. Given the complexity of the relationship between the two companies, and its ownership structure — not to mention Sprint's pending deal to sell a majority stake to SoftBank — sources caution that a Clearwire acquisition is still fraught with difficulty.
Still, in recent days Sprint has had significant conversations with a number of Clearwire's big shareholders, which include Bright House, Intel and Comcast, aimed at purchasing their stock at roughly $3.00 a share, according to people familiar with the conversations.
The price that Sprint would offer for the 488 million shares that are held by the public remains unclear, and while a special committee of Clearwire's directors might agree to a similar price, it remains to be seen whether a tender at that price would succeed.
Sprint's intention, as I've previously reported, has been to acquire what it doesn't own of Clearwire — in order to add that company's much needed spectrum to its own as it embarks on life as a subsidiary of SoftBank.
SoftBank is hoping to close its deal to acquire 70 percent of Sprint by March or April, and sources tell me Sprint hopes to close a deal to buy Clearwire simultaneously.
Sprint needs the consent of SoftBank to buy Clearwire and perhaps more importantly, any deal between Sprint and Clearwire will need to be conditional to the closing of the Softbank deal — adding yet another layer of complexity. (Read More: Why the Nexen-CNOOC Deal Will Spur More Energy Deals)
Clearwire, which has $5 billion in debt, is still in need of additional liquidity. Its debt holders noted that it did not call its first lien notes Monday, as it might have been expected to do were it to remain an independent company. Any purchase by Sprint would dramatically lower Clearwire's borrowing costs, something that has already been reflected in the price of its bonds. (Read More: As Companies Seek Tax Deals, Governments Pay High Price)
A Clearwire spokesperson declined comment and a Sprint spokesman couldn't be reached.