SoftBank Group Corp on Monday reported a record 1.4 trillion yen ($13 billion) operating loss in the April-March financial year as the value of its tech bets via the $100 billion Vision Fund crumbled. The tech and telecoms conglomerate's disastrous result, caused by a 1.9 trillion yen loss at the Saudi Arabian-backed fund, compared with a group operating profit of 2 trillion yen in the same period a year earlier.
The fund's portfolio is underwater, with a $75 billion investment in 88 startups worth $69.6 billion at the end of March. It booked losses of almost $10 billion on office space sharing firm WeWork and ride hailing firm Uber Technologies Inc alone. Chief Executive Masayoshi Son's strategy of fronting huge sums of cash and pushing for breakneck growth had already delivered two consecutive quarters of losses at the fund before being upended by the coronavirus outbreak.
SoftBank booked a $7.5 billion loss on other tech investments, which it attributed primarily to the economic shock caused by the virus. The outbreak has exacerbated underlying problems at many of its bets on unproven startups. The heavily indebted SoftBank has leveraged its bets to supply further funds to its investing juggernaut - a strategy that is coming under growing strain as valuations tumble.
SoftBank-backed satellite operator OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in late March, adding to an impairment loss for investments held outside the Vision Fund that also includes part of the stake in WeWork. The turmoil has given leverage to activist shareholder Elliott Management, which in addition to recommending share buybacks is pushing for greater transparency and oversight.
The demands echo critics who argue SoftBank is dominated by Son and provides too little detail on how the valuations that drive its profit are reached. The group has been forced to pledge sale or monetisation of $41 billion in assets, in part to finance a 2.5 trillion yen buyback to prop up its share price. By the end of April it had spent 250 billion yen on share purchases.
The company is loosening ties with the largest asset in its portfolio and a likely target for asset sales, Chinese e-commerce major Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, with co-founder Jack Ma departing the SoftBank board.