SoftBank: Son has sold struggling group’s safety net

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The $54.5bn listing of SoftBank’s chip unit Arm Holdings gave analysts good reason to expect a positive group net income figure for the September quarter. Perhaps that was why Masayoshi Son, founder of the Japanese tech investment group, was not on hand to deliver the results with his usual dramatic flair.

The group announced a disappointing net loss of ¥931bn ($6.2bn). If SoftBank cannot turn a profit with a boost as big as Arm, when can it?

The flagship Vision Fund segment has been hit by valuation declines of tech investments and the bankruptcy of WeWork.

There are some signs of improvement. More listings, including the Arm flotation, helps the Vision Fund unit improve its liquidity profile. The business has lost $53bn in the past two years.

SoftBank has been cashing in on its stake in Alibaba, which reduces its exposure to geopolitical risk. However, the disposals remove a safety net valued by SoftBank shareholders. For example, SoftBank posted a profit for the September quarter last year, thanks partly to sales of Alibaba shares.

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The timing could have been better if Son was going to cash in on its most lucrative investment. China’s tech crackdown has pushed Alibaba shares down 72 per cent from their 2020 peak.

Shares of SoftBank have dropped 8 per cent in the past year despite surging interest in tech, especially artificial intelligence. Its funds’ gross multiple on invested capital, a measure of the value a private equity investment has generated, for its realised investments is at 1.8 times, underperforming peers such as EQT of Sweden. 

The multiple on invested capital on SoftBank’s investment in Arm is just over 3 times, a far cry from a figure for Alibaba of more than 1300 times. SoftBank funds made a loss on the value of 72 per cent of its portfolio companies as of June.

Investors can only hope Son was absent from results presentations because he was hunting out a safety net to replace Alibaba.

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