Daily Management Review

$26 Bln Loss Reported By SoftBank Vision Fund But Son Pledges Defence


$26 Bln Loss Reported By SoftBank Vision Fund But Son Pledges Defence
On Thursday, SoftBank Group Corp disclosed a record $26.2 billion loss at its Vision Fund investment arm, as high-growth tech firms were battered by rising interest rates and political unrest.
The loss contrasted sharply with SoftBank's record annual profit a year prior, raising questions about founder and CEO Masayoshi Son's strategy of focusing primarily on riskier, high-growth firms.
Many of the once high-flyers in which it has invested are now being questioned by investors as to whether they have a clear route to profitability. Coupang, a South Korean e-commerce company, is currently selling at 70 per cent below its initial public offering price. Didi Global Inc and Grab Holdings, two ride-hailing companies, both fell during the January-March quarter.
"When the world is in disorder, SoftBank should play defence," Son said at a subdued briefing following the earnings announcement, pledging to bolster the group's cash position through asset monetisation and tighten investment criteria.
Son's earnings speeches are extensively scrutinised for hints about his plans for the massive tech conglomerate's future. He emphasised the group's financial caution and the potential for chip designer Arm, which SoftBank seeks to list in the United States, several times on Thursday.
The Vision Fund has a portfolio of 475 firms and made 43 investments in the fourth quarter. As private prices lag the decline in public markets, investment is declining.
During the quarter, 20 of SoftBank's portfolio firms raised funding at higher valuations, but the company also wrote down several of its unlisted assets in areas like consumer, fintech, and transportation, leading to the record loss.
SoftBank is expected to invest half as much as it did last year, according to Son, as part of a vow to keep the group's loan-to-value ratio below 25%, which was 20.4 per cent at the end of March.
SoftBank, led by Son, 64, has been regarded as a goose laying golden eggs, but the pace of IPOs has slowed, with one noteworthy recent exception, Indonesia's GoTo, which has fallen since coming public last month.
SoftBank's own stock dropped 8% to 4,491 yen ahead of earnings, and is now down more than half from last March's highs. The company has a 40 per cent stake thanks to a 1 trillion yen buyback programme that began in November.
The company's net loss for the year was 1.7 trillion yen ($13.15 billion). At the end of March, the Vision Fund unit's assets, including the Latin American funds, totaled $175.6 billion. This compares to a $141.6 billion acquisition cost.
SoftBank also reported a 669.5 billion yen loss in non-consolidated earnings due to its SB Northstar trading unit, which made wagers on listed equities and derivatives but incurred personal losses for Son.
The unit's activities was part of an attempt by SoftBank to diversify its portfolio beyond e-commerce giant Alibaba, whose stock has dropped by more than two-thirds as regulatory action roils China's digital sector.
"There are wonderful companies in China and we will invest in them but with smaller deals," said Son.
Despite his current caution, Son reaffirmed his conviction in the "information revolution" with a graph depicting the current market collapse as a blip before internet companies began their upward climb.
"In a year or two I think the stock market will recover and then the timing to go on the offensive will return," Son said.