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.


Oil prices mixed as Trump calls on OPEC to lower prices

Updated 4 min 15 sec ago
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Oil prices mixed as Trump calls on OPEC to lower prices

  • OPEC and its allies are scheduled to meet on Sunday in Algeria
  • They are not likely to agree to an official increase in crude output at this weekend’s meeting
SEOUL: Oil prices were mixed on Friday after falling in the previous session as US President Donald Trump urged OPEC to lower crude prices ahead of its meeting in Algeria this weekend.
International benchmark Brent crude for November delivery was up 5 cents at $78.75 a barrel by 0424 GMT.
US West Texas Intermediate crude for October delivery fell 8 cents to $70.24 a barrel.
Trump called on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to lower prices, saying on Twitter “they would not be safe for very long without us, and yet they continue to push for higher and higher oil prices.”
OPEC and its allies are scheduled to meet on Sunday in Algeria to discuss how to allocate supply increases to offset a shortage of Iran supplies due to US sanctions.
Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia-Pacific at OANDA in Singapore, said Trump’s remarks just days before the OPEC meeting put “a focus on the likely supply impacts of US-led Iran sanctions.”
“The market had until that point been trading fluidly with the assumption that Saudi Arabia is now comfortable with Brent at $80 or even higher, which is challenging the market’s long-held supposition that prompt Brent between $70 and $80 was OPEC’s sweet spot,” Innes added.
Brent has been trading just below $80 a barrel, backed by concerns of supply shortages from looming US sanctions against Iran, which are set to take effect in November.
“Iranian crude exports are coming earlier and bigger-than-expected, at a time seasonal demand is strong. With spare capacity also falling sharply, the market remains exposed to supply-induced price shocks,” according to a report by ANZ Bank.
Although supply worries have pushed up oil prices, OPEC and its allies were not likely to agree to an official increase in crude output at this weekend’s meeting, OPEC sources said.