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.


Bank lending for ‘real economy’ key to boost China growth: central bank official

Updated 49 sec ago
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Bank lending for ‘real economy’ key to boost China growth: central bank official

  • ‘The central bank doesn’t wish to use administrative methods to require banks (to lend)’
  • Quantitative easing is neither necessary nor possible at the moment
SHANGHAI: China should encourage its banks to support smaller, private firms in the real economy, rather than forced lending or policies such as quantitative easing, a state newspaper quoted a central bank official as saying on Saturday.
“The central bank doesn’t wish to use administrative methods to require banks (to lend),” Sun Guofeng, head of the monetary policy department at the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), told the Financial News, a bank publication.
“It wants to establish positive encouragement mechanisms though monetary policy tools to encourage banks to actively increase their support for the real economy, especially toward smaller and privately-owned firms,” Sun said.
The comments come a month after Sun wrote a commentary in which he argued that problems with timely capital replenishment, bank liquidity gaps and poor rate “transmission” are three major constraints on banks’ supply of credit.
In the interview with the Financial News, Sun said monetary policy transmission had “noticeably improved,” showing that steps to enhance transmission mechanisms had been effective.
He said the central bank would increase the strength of innovation in monetary policy tools.
Perpetual bond issuance “is only one breakthrough” in reducing capital constraints on banks, Sun said, adding that “other methods” could be used in the future.
He said that quantitative easing was neither necessary nor possible at the moment, noting that under China’s financial system the significance of the central bank buying Chinese treasury bonds on the secondary market is limited, and that the PBOC is barred from buying the instruments on the primary market.
China’s banks made the most new loans on record in January following a series of moves to boost lending as authorities try to prevent a sharp slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.