By Thomas Wilson
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's SoftBank GroupCorp <9984.T> on Wednesday said it has agreed to buy Fortress Investment GroupLLC <FIG.N> for about $3.3 billion, looking to add investment expertise as it prepares to launch the world's largest private equity fund.
The all-cash deal is SoftBank's first major investment in an asset manager and represents yet another unpredictable gambit for a group that has to date focused on telecoms and technology.
It comes after founder Masayashi Son made the surprise announcement in October that SoftBank is teaming up with Saudi Arabia to set up a $100 billion technology fund.
Buying private equity and alternative investment heavyweight Fortress could help SoftBank move to financing investments with private equity cash instead of debt, said Gerhard Fasol of Eurotechnology Japan, a consultancy.
"Son's strategy appears to be to use Fortress's know-how to move from debt financing to private equity. It's a logical progression for the company," he said.
SoftBank hired one of Fortress's senior executives, Rajeev Misra, in 2014. Misra now runs the SoftBank-Saudi Arabia fund.
New York-listed asset manager Fortress's investments span real estate, hedge funds and private equity.
It had $70 billion in investments under management at the end of September 2016, and is one of few global foreign investors with funds that are targeted at Japanese assets.
In the wake of the global financial crisis, Fortress bought bad loans in Italy and has a track record in Japan, where it bought hotels held by Lehman Brothers after the bank collapsed in 2008.
SoftBank's Son said in a statement that the deal would "accelerate our SoftBank 2.0 transformation strategy of bold, disciplined investment and world-class execution to drive sustainable long-term growth".
SoftBank executives were not available to comment further on the deal.
Though Fortress' performance in Japan may have impressed SoftBank, its broader growth has been lackluster. The first among the major U.S. alternative asset managers to go public 10 years ago, Fortress was then valued at $14 billion.
Despite its diversification into a range of hedge fund strategies, from bitcoin to timber, Fortress failed to keep up with the growth in assets under management of bigger peers such as Blackstone.
The companies said Fortress principals would continue to lead the investment manager, which will operate within SoftBank as an independent business, based in New York. Senior fund managers would also remain with the group, it said.
Fortress shareholders will receive $8.08 per share, a premium of 38.6 percent to the closing price on Feb. 13.
Fortress plans to maintain its current base dividend of 9 cents per share for the fourth quarter of 2016, the company said in a statement.
JP Morgan Securities and Morgan Stanley & Co acted as financial advisers for SoftBank and Fortress respectively. Evercore acted as financial adviser to the Special Committee of Fortress's Board of Directors.
SoftBank shares rose 2 percent, compared with a 1 percent gain for the wider TOPIX <.TOPX> index.
(Reporting by Thomas Wilson in Tokyo, Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Clara Ferreira Marques in Singapore; Editing by Stephen Coates)