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UPDATE 3-Sprint swings to a profit, hints at deal prospects

(Adds comments from conference call)

NEW YORK, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Sprint Corp on Tuesday swung to a quarterly profit for the first time in three years and its chief executive said an announcement on merger talks should come in the "near future," sending shares in the No. 4 U.S. wireless carrier up more than 6 percent.

Sprint, majority owned by Japan's SoftBank Group Corp , is exploring options including a merger with rival carrier T-Mobile US Inc as well as a tie-up with cable provider Charter Communications Inc.

It is also in the middle of a turnaround plan and has sought to strengthen its balance sheet to compete in a saturated market for wireless service.

While Sprint has cut costs, analysts say the company is highly leveraged. And although its customer base has expanded under Chief Executive Marcelo Claure, growth has been driven by heavy discounting.

On the company's post-earnings conference call, Claure said that while Sprint could sustain itself on its own, the synergies that could come with a transaction were significantly better than remaining a standalone entity.

He would not give specifics on merger discussions, but added Sprint would leave that to an announcement that "should be coming in the near future."

"We have plenty of options, and we've had discussions with a lot of different parties," he said.

He said he was surprised Charter said it was not interested in acquiring Sprint given Sprint was never offered for Charter to buy. Rather, he said, it was part of the "bigger play that has been reported."

"Everybody has shown a high level of interest in evaluating Sprint as a potential merger partner. We're very encouraged by the results of our conversations," Claure later told reporters.

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this week that SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son is considering making an acquisition offer for the cable company as early as the end of August.

Sprint said it cut its cost of services and selling, general and administrative expenses by about $370 million in the quarter and that it expects an additional $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion of year-over-year reductions in fiscal 2017.

The company reported net income of $206 million, or 5 cents per share in the first quarter ended June 30, compared to a loss of $302 million, or 8 cents per share, a year earlier.

Net operating revenue was $8.16 billion, up from $8.01 billion.

Analysts, on average, expected a net loss of 1 cent per share on revenue of $8.11 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Shares were last up 6.6 percent to $8.51.

Sprint added 88,000 subscribers who pay a monthly phone bill in the quarter, compared to 173,000 net additions in the year-earlier period. (Reporting by Anjali Athavaley; Editing by W Simon and Meredith Mazzilli)