Thu | Feb 20, 2020

SoftBank tumbles into losses over costly investments

Published:Thursday | November 7, 2019 | 12:20 AM
SoftBank founder and Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son.
SoftBank founder and Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son.

Japanese technology company SoftBank Group Corp tumbled into losses in the last quarter as its earnings were hammered by money-losing investments, including a bailout for office-space sharing start-up WeWork.

SoftBank’s founder, Masayoshi Son, said he was regretting “mistaken investment moves.” He said the situation at WeWork was under control, and he expects to turn it around.

The Tokyo-based company’s ¥700 billion (US$6.4 billion) loss in the July-September quarter compares with a 526 billion yen profit the same period a year ago.

SoftBank said Wednesday that it expects a special loss on the value of its shares of subsidiaries and associates of nearly ¥498 billion (US$4.6 billion) for its non-consolidated financial statement for the fiscal year ending in March 2020.

Last month, SoftBank announced a bailout for WeWork, including US$5 billion in new financing, a tender offer of up to US$3 billion for existing WeWork shareholders and an acceleration of an earlier promise of US$1.5 billion in funding.

Although start-ups always carry a bit of risk, until recently SoftBank’s diverse portfolio had helped offset any money-losing investments.

Son’s charisma and global perspective have also worked in SoftBank’s favour.

But questionable corporate governance practices at WeWork have landed SoftBank in a crisis, he acknowledged at its earnings news conference.

Various negative media reports about WeWork were “true in some sense,” Son said.

“The perception is that SoftBank is being dragged down into the quagmire of WeWork,” he said.

“I am looking back with true regret about the mistaken investment moves that I have made.”

SoftBank’s investment fund called Vision Fund sank into losses, but Son said that overall, its investors are still reaping profits from their total investments and the Vision Fund’s value for shareholders has not fallen despite the latest losses thanks to stock price gains of other holdings.

Apart from WeWork, SoftBank invests in a wide array of companies, including Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba; car-sharing companies Uber, Didi and Grab; internet company Yahoo and the internet of things, or IoT, Britain-based company Arm.

Son pointed out that while Uber’s share price has fallen recently, it has risen since SoftBank invested in it.

Son promised a turnaround at WeWork, saying it’s “not a sinking ship.” He said he has sent in SoftBank Chief Operating Office Marcelo Claure, who oversaw the merger at Sprint, to lead WeWork and beef up its corporate governance.

Adam Neumann, a co-founder of WeWork, stepped down as chief executive in September.

In a presentation, Son said WeWork was losing money from initial construction and design costs but, with time, its properties will become profitable.

Asked why WeWork was viewed as a technology investment when it’s actually a real estate company, Son pointed to internet technology used by the company, which focuses on offering office space to start-ups.

It’s common for new companies to start out with losses, including those considered successes such as Amazon and Facebook, he said.

SoftBank says it has ample cash to handle WeWork’s woes.

“There is no storm, and things are under control,” he said.

In a bit of good news, SoftBank has won long-sought US regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission for US carrier Sprint’s merger with T-Mobile. SoftBank owns a majority stake in Sprint.