UPDATE 1-Nokia shareholders set to approve Microsoft deal
(Adds background on deal)
HELSINKI, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Nokia shareholders were set to approve the sale of the company's mobile phone business to Microsoft on Tuesday, deciding the deal's financial benefits outweighed objections by a minority of investors upset by the sale of a Finnish national asset.
More than 99 percent of shareholders registered in advance of a meeting in Helsinki to vote on the deal, accounting for around 45 percent of the total shares, approved the sale. A final tally is expected in the next few hours.
The deal, which only requires approval from holders of a straight majority of the company's shares, is expected to close in the first quarter of next year after regulatory clearance.
Nokia in September agreed to sell its devices and services business and license its patents to Microsoft for 5.44 billion euros ($7.4 billion) after failing to recover from a late start in smartphones.
"I think it's a fair price if you think about the situation right now," said Matti Pirkola, a 58-year-old shareholder as he arrived for the meeting in Helsinki's Ice Hall arena.
The sale is set to boost Nokia's net cash position to nearly 8 billion euros from around 2 billion in the third quarter.
That is likely to help the company regain investment-grade status from the major credit rating agencies and allow it to return cash to shareholders, possibly through a dividend payment.
Nokia earlier this year suspended its annual dividend for the first time in the 148-year-old company's recorded history in an attempt to preserve cash.
Without the loss-making handset business, the remaining company will earn over 90 percent of sales from telecom equipment unit Nokia Services and Networks (NSN) and will also include a navigation software business and a trove of patents.
(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando and Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by David Goodman and David Holmes)