TOKYO (Reuters) – SoftBank reported its first quarterly loss in 14 years on Wednesday, whiplashed by an $8.9 billion hit at its giant Vision Fund and marking a rare, humbling moment for CEO Masayoshi Son over his backing of troubled startup WeWork.
FILE PHOTO: Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp Chief Executive Masayoshi Son attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo
The scale of the loss shows the risks in Son’s strategy of splashing out big on cash-burning startups. It has also cast a pall on his efforts to raise another massive fund.
WeWork’s spectacular flame-out this year has also raised questions about Son’s judgement in backing unconventional tech founders such as WeWork’s Adam Neumann. SoftBank was forced last month to spend more than $10 billion to bail out the office-sharing startup after its IPO attempt flopped.
Son, 62, told a news conference following the results that his judgement around WeWork was “not right” in many ways, and that he had turned a blind eye to problems with Neumann in areas such as corporate governance.
Still, he was defiant that WeWork was still a solid business, saying there would be a “hockey stick” recovery in its profits eventually.
SoftBank Group Corp said its $100 billion Vision Fund contributed an operating loss of 970 billion yen ($8.9 billion) during the period, and an unrealised loss of 537.9 billion yen for the six months of the year as the value of its tech bets such as WeWork and Uber tumbled.
Overall, the group posted an operating loss of 704 billion yen ($6.5 billion) in the July-September quarter compared to a 706 billion yen profit in the same period a year earlier and a 48 billion yen loss forecast by analysts, according to Refinitiv.
It wrote down the value of its investment in WeWork by $3.4 billion in the second quarter and expected the loss to widen to $4.6 billion in the current fiscal year.
The Saudi Arabia-backed Vision Fund, which is run by ex-Deutsche Bank banker Rajeev Misra, has invested $70.7 billion in 88 companies at the end of September. Those investments are now worth $77.6 billion excluding exits, it said.
With increased market scrutiny over the path to profitability for many of its bets on unproven startups, SoftBank is struggling to take them to market – an essential step to unlock capital to keep its investment juggernaut growing.
The value of most of the fund’s listed investments, including Uber, Slack Technologies and Guardant Health fell over the quarter.
At Uber that slide has continued as losses continue to mount and a post-IPO share lock-up ends, with its shares hitting new lows this week.
SoftBank’s investing activities are propped up by other pillars of Son’s empire including domestic telco SoftBank Corp, which on Tuesday reported a 9% rise in second-quarter operating profit, beating estimates, buoyed by its cash-cow mobile business.
SoftBank did not release a forecast for the current business year, saying there were too many uncertain factors.
Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman