Saudi-backed SoftBank to ramp up tech investment

A Softbank branch in Tokyo. The company plans to invest as much as $25 billion in Saudi Arabia in the next three to four years. (Reuters)
Updated 20 June 2018
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Saudi-backed SoftBank to ramp up tech investment

  • SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son to step up company's "unicorn hunting" investment strategy
  • Saudi Arabia's PIF has contributed $45 billion to SoftBank's Vision Fund

LONDON: Japanese conglomerate SoftBank will double down on its ambitious tech investment strategy, in a move that could create opportunities for further collaboration with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).
SoftBank — which owns Japan’s third-largest telecoms operator — has emerged in recent years as one of the world’s largest tech investors, acquiring stakes in companies including Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, and UK chipmaker ARM Holdings.
It last year launched the $100 billion Vision Fund, boosted by a $45 billion investment from PIF. It attracted $93 billion in funds last year, aided by contributions from Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company, Apple, Foxconn and others, making it the world’s largest buyout fund.
The Vision Fund has invested in disruptive firms, especially those in the technology space, including Swiss pharmaceuticals startup Roivant, office space company WeWork, and enterprise messaging service Slack.
CEO Masayoshi Son signaled that such dealmaking will become even more of a focus for SoftBank.
“I have spent 97 percent of my time on managing the telecoms business and only 3 percent on investing,” he told investors at the group’s annual meeting on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
Reversing that balance will allow SoftBank to grow faster, he said.
Son’s comments fit with a transformation underway at SoftBank from a domestic telecoms firm to “unicorn hunter” — as Son termed it — focusing on late-stage startups around the world.
Last month, SoftBank invested $2.25 billion in GM Cruise, the carmaker’s autonomous vehicle unit, complementing its shareholdings in China’s Didi Chuxing, the world’s largest ride-sharing app, as well as rivals Uber, Grab and Ola.
The Vision Fund will initially invest $900 million in GM Cruise Holdings, investing the remaining $1.35 billion when GM’s Cruise AVs are ready for commercial deployment. The investment gives the Vision Fund a 19.6 percent stake in GM Cruise.
Saudi Arabia’s PIF has been key to SoftBank’s tech investment strategy with its contribution to the Vision Fund, with the Kingdom also benefiting directly from partnerships with SoftBank.
Son said in November that SoftBank planned to invest as much as $25 billion in the Kingdom in the next three to four years, and aimed to deploy up to $15 billion in Neom, a futuristic city to be built on the Red Sea coast.
PIF and the Vision Fund in March announced a partnership to build the world’s largest solar project in Saudi Arabia, with a capacity of up to 200 gigawatts, in line with the Kingdom’s solar ambitions as set out in Vision 2030.
The agreement will establish an electricity generation company in Saudi Arabia, and will commission two solar plants with a capacity of 3GW and 4.2GW by the end of next year. It envisages localizing a significant portion of the renewable energy value chain in the Saudi economy, including research and development and the manufacturing of solar panels.
SoftBank shareholders on Wednesday approved the appointment of three executive vice presidents — SoftBank unit Sprint Corp’s former chief executive, Marcelo Claure, and former bankers Katsunori Sago and Rajeev Misra.
Bolivian-born billionaire Claure was appointed SoftBank’s chief operating officer in May, tasked with driving cooperation between the group’s portfolio companies. Former Goldman Sachs executive Sago became chief strategy officer on Wednesday and will focus on group investment. Misra runs the Vision Fund.
Son yesterday bemoaned the so-called conglomerate discount weighing on SoftBank’s shares at its investor meeting.
He said when the market value of stakes the firm holds in companies such as Alibaba Group Holding and ARM Holdings are taken into account, SoftBank’s shares should be trading above 14,000 yen ($127), rather than about 8,000 yen currently.


Japan, EU to sign widespread trade deal eliminating tariffs

Updated 20 min 54 sec ago
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Japan, EU to sign widespread trade deal eliminating tariffs

  • Both sides are heralding the deal, which covers a third of the global economy and more than 600 million people
  • Besides the latest deal with the EU, Japan is working on other trade agreements, including a far-reaching trans-Pacific deal

TOKYO: The European Union and Japan are signing a widespread trade deal Tuesday that will eliminate nearly all tariffs, seemingly defying the worries about trade tensions set off by President Donald Trump’s policies.
The signing in Tokyo for the deal, largely reached late last year, is ceremonial. It was delayed from earlier this month because Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe canceled going to Brussels over a disaster in southwestern Japan, caused by extremely heavy rainfall. More than 200 people died from flooding and landslides.
European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who arrived Monday, will also attend a gala dinner at the prime minister’s official residence.
Both sides are heralding the deal, which covers a third of the global economy and more than 600 million people.
The deal eliminates about 99 percent of the tariffs on Japanese goods to the EU, but remaining at around 94 percent for European imports into Japan for now and rising to 99 percent over the years. The difference is due to exceptions such as rice, a product that’s culturally and politically sensitive and has been protected for decades in Japan.
The major step toward liberalizing trade was discussed in talks since 2013 but is striking in the timing of the signing, as China and the US are embroiled in trade conflicts.
The US is proposing 10 percent tariffs on a $200 billion list of Chinese goods. That follows an earlier move by Washington to impose 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods. Beijing has responded by imposing identical penalties on a similar amount of American imports.
Besides the latest deal with the EU, Japan is working on other trade agreements, including a far-reaching trans-Pacific deal. The partnership includes Australia, Mexico, Vietnam and other nations, although the US has withdrawn.
Japan praised the deal with the EU as coming from Abe’s “Abenomics” policies, designed to wrest the economy out of stagnation despite a shrinking population and cautious spending. Japan’s growth continues to be heavily dependent on exports.
By strengthening ties with the EU, Japan hopes to vitalize mutual direct investment, fight other global trends toward protectionism and enhance the stature of Japanese brands, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The EU said the trade liberalization will lead to the region’s export growth in chemicals, clothing, cosmetics and beer to Japan, leading to job security for Europe. Japanese will get cheaper cheese, such as Parmesan, gouda and cheddar, as well as chocolate and biscuits.
Japanese consumers have historically coveted European products, and a drop in prices is likely to boost spending.