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UPDATE 1-SoftBank Corp says Q3 profit rose 24 pct in first post-IPO earnings

Sam Nussey

(Recasts on earnings results)

TOKYO, Feb 5 (Reuters) - SoftBank Corp, Japan's third-largest mobile phone network provider, said on Tuesday operating profit rose 24 percent in its third quarter on growing wireless sales, in its first earnings report as a public company.

With concerns over a changing mobile market keeping its shares well below their blockbuster IPO price, investors are looking for reassurance that the telco can keep its promise of paying 85 percent of annual profit in dividends.

Others are looking for any hint of the health of majority shareholder SoftBank Group Corp, which relies on the telco's cash to fund investments.

Operating profit was 191.6 billion yen ($1.74 billion) in October-December, compared with 155.1 billion yen in the same period a year earlier, SoftBank Corp said in a stock exchange filing.

The results cover a turbulent three months at SoftBank. Over that period, the firm suffered a network outage, fielded ongoing government calls for lower prices, and faced scrutiny over its ties to Huawei Technologies Co Ltd - a Chinese company whose telecoms equipment Western powers fear could be used for espionage.

Pressure is set to continue in 2019 as market-leader NTT Docomo Inc trumpets its annual "return" of 400 billion yen to customers and e-commerce firm Rakuten Inc becomes the fourth major wireless carrier from October pledging low prices.

The quarter also saw SoftBank conduct Japan's largest-ever IPO. However, the stock dropped 15 percent on its Dec. 19 debut from its 1500 yen IPO price, leaving its overwhelmingly domestic retail investors underwater and cooling broader investor sentiment, finance executives said.

(For an interactive graphic on SoftBank Corp shares, click here)

The stock closed flat on Tuesday ahead of the earnings, trading about 20 percent below the 1,600 yen average target price of 13 analysts compiled by Refinitiv.

Seven analysts recommend or strongly recommend buying the stock, whereas six suggest holding or selling.

Nomura Securities analyst Daisaku Masuno wrote in a report that SoftBank should be able to grow as market uncertainty fades through its strategy of appealing to heavy users through its industry-leading 50 gigabyte data plan while offering low-price plans through its Ymobile brand.

SoftBank maintained its forecast for operating profit to rise 10 percent to 700 billion yen for the year through March. That compares with the 691 billion yen average of 13 analyst estimates compiled by Refinitiv.

The firm will hold a briefing with Chief Executive Ken Miyauchi from 16:00 (0700 GMT). ($1 = 109.8500 yen)

(Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Christopher Cushing)