SoftBank’s Vision Fund tumbles to $18 billion loss in ‘valley of coronavirus’

SoftBank Group CEO

Japan’s SoftBank reported a stunning $18 billion loss at its giant Vision Fund, pushing Masayoshi Son’s conglomerate to a record loss and highlighting the deepening crisis at its portfolio companies from the global downturn. 

KEY POINTS

  • SoftBank reported a stunning $18 billion loss
  • Its Vision Fund pushed the conglomerate to a record loss and highlighting the crisis at its portfolio companies from the global downturn
  • The $100 billion fund had already delivered two consecutive quarters of losses before the outbreak.

The disastrous 1.9 trillion yen ($18 billion) operating shortfall at the Saudi-backed Vision Fund, including losses of almost $10 billion at office-sharing firm WeWork and ride-hailing app Uber Technologies Inc alone, left SoftBank with its worst annual loss of 1.4 trillion yen.

Son, who is under pressure from US activist hedge fund Elliott Management to increase share buybacks and bolster governance, said SoftBank would raise 1.25 trillion yen for buybacks against its stake in China’s Alibaba Group.

Related Article:
M&A: Tech leads crisis-driven boom with $350 billion deal rush

“The coronavirus is an unprecedented crisis,” a notably downbeat Son told an earnings presentation, comparing it to the Great Depression.

Appearing far more subdued than usual, Son said some of his tech unicorns had fallen “into the valley of the coronavirus”.

“I believe some of them will fly over the valley,” he added, standing beside a slide depicting cartoon unicorns dropping into a hole as a lone winged unicorn escaped to the other side.

The crisis has pushed the Vision Fund’s portfolio underwater, with its $75 billion investment in 88 startups worth $69.6 billion at the end of March. The $100 billion fund had already delivered two consecutive quarters of losses before being upended by the outbreak.

SoftBank Group Corp booked a $7.5 billion loss on other tech investments, which it attributed primarily to the economic shock caused by the virus. The outbreak has exacerbated underlying problems at many of its bets on unproven start-ups.

Related Article:
SoftBank plans $41 billion of asset sales to expand buyback and cut debt

SCANT DETAIL

The company is loosening ties with Alibaba Group, the largest asset in its portfolio, with the Chinese e-commerce major’s co-founder, Jack Ma, departing the SoftBank board.

SoftBank provided scant detail on which companies saw write-downs but offered a sector breakdown showing investments in construction and real estate were worth less than half of cost price, with flagship transportation investments also underwater.

The company has leveraged its investments to supply further funding for other bets – a strategy that has come under strain as valuations tumble – with losses larger than the group’s revised estimate from just last month.

SoftBank-backed satellite operator OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in late March, adding to an impairment loss for investments held outside the Vision Fund that also includes part of the stake in WeWork.

The group pointed to further pain to come, saying “uncertainty in its investment business will remain over the next fiscal year” if the pandemic continues.

Related Article:
SoftBank renews talks on taking the group private

Son declined to set a dividend for the current financial year for the first time, underscoring the pressure for SoftBank.

The turmoil has given leverage to US shareholder Elliott, which, in addition to recommending share buybacks, is pushing for greater transparency and oversight.

The demands echo critics who argue SoftBank is dominated by Son and offers little transparency on how the valuations that drive its profit are reached.

The group has pledged the sale or monetisation of $41 billion in assets, in part to finance a 2.5-trillion-yen buyback to prop up its share price. By the end of April it had spent 250 billion yen on share purchases.

Via our content partners at Reuters. Reporting by Sam Nussey. Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Clarence Fernandez.

Share This Post