Briefing

SoftBank’s Vision Fund posts operating loss, second fund scaled back, but CEO Masayoshi Son remains optimistic

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The Japanese conglomerate’s signature effort, which made Son the world’s biggest tech investor, posted a fourth-quarter operating loss of US$2.04 billion, compared to a US$1.6-billion profit for the same quarter in 2018. Son said he would slow the torrid pace of fundraising and investing for his second planned US$108-billion fund, which SoftBank may finance on its own. (The Wall Street Journal, Reuters)

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Talking point: Today’s earnings presentation represented Son’s first public comments since activist fund Elliott Management amassed a US$2.5-billion stake in SoftBank and called for the conglomerate to buy back billions in shares, provide more investment transparency and overhaul its governance. Son acknowledged the failures of the fund’s big bets—its portfolio firms have seen over 7,300 layoffs combined since June 2019—had “caused concerns among potential investors.” He focused on the positive, instead: a judicial approval for a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as Uber’s rising share price. “The market view is still skeptical of us, that SoftBank might go bankrupt,” he said. “But that tide is turning.” Son also said investors and onlookers should consider SoftBank to be an investment company, not an operating one—and that he, too, was transforming from Bill Gates to Warren Buffet, while “still making some craziness” along the way.