SoftBank rebounds to profit after record losses

TOKYO – SoftBank Group bounced back from a loss to post a first-quarter as valuations for technology start-ups recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.

Net income hit 1.26 trillion yen (S$16.30 billion) for the three months ended June 30, the Tokyo-based company said in a statement on Tuesday, compared with a loss of 1.44 trillion yen three months earlier. The Vision Fund income was 129.6 billion yen, following a 1.13 trillion yen loss for the previous quarter.

Masayoshi Son has pulled off a remarkably speedy comeback after the worst loss in his company’s 39-year history. A global rally in technology shares lifted the value of SoftBank’s stakes in publicly traded firms like Uber Technologies and improved the prospects for start-ups in its portfolio, from China’s Didi Chuxing to South Korea’s Coupang. Mr Son also sold off assets and bought back shares at unprecedented rates, pushing up SoftBank’s own stock price to the highest in two decades.

“There is a real case for increasing valuations at the Vision Fund, given how much the overall tech markets have rallied,” Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners in Singapore, said ahead of the announcement. “There are still a lot of caveats.”

The US$100 billion Vision Fund Mr Son set up three years ago to invest in technology companies has become a key driver of SoftBank’s income. SoftBank marks the valuation of its sprawling portfolio up or down based on changes over the previous months, reporting the net result as a profit or loss for the Vision Fund. The precise calculations aren’t disclosed, but a rally for a public company would typically benefit the valuation of a private peer.

Take Uber for example. A plunge in its shares during the last fiscal year cost SoftBank billions, but the stock rebounded 11 per cent in the June quarter. That translates into a profit for the Japanese company and may mean it can write up valuations for the rest of its ride-hailing portfolio, which includes Didi, South-east Asia’s Grab and Ola in India.

Several SoftBank-backed companies have also pulled off successful initial public offerings, raising the prospects for more in the future. Online home-insurance provider Lemonade more than doubled in the days after its initial public offering last month, while oncology drug developer Relay Therapeutics has surged about the same amount since its trading debut.

Beike Zhaofang, a Chinese online property brokerage backed by SoftBank, said last week it is seeking to raise about US$2 billion in a US IPO. DoorDash, a US food delivery company backed by SoftBank, has filed paperwork for a public stock listing. Online insurance platform Policybazaar and e-commerce giant Coupang are preparing for offerings in 2021.

Mr Son put plans for a second Vision Fund on hold after missteps, including the meltdown at WeWork. Now, the fund’s upbeat results and a renewed investor appetite for risk could revive the idea, according to Atul Goyal, senior analyst at Jefferies Group.

“With so much money sloshing around in the global financial markets, the idea of successive Vision Funds could be back on the table,” Mr Goyal said ahead of the results announcement. “SoftBank suffered some reputation damage with the first one, but in five or six months Mr Son could have a few spectacular exits he can use to start raising money again.

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