SoftBank’s Son says Japan is ‘stupid’ to disallow ride-sharing

“A country that gives up on the future has no future,” SoftBank Group CEO Masayoshi Son told attendees at a SoftBank World event. (Reuters)
Updated 19 July 2018
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SoftBank’s Son says Japan is ‘stupid’ to disallow ride-sharing

  • ‘Ride-sharing is prohibited by law in Japan. I can’t believe there is still such a stupid country’
  • SoftBank and its nearly $100 billion Vision Fund have invested in ride-sharing firms Uber, Didi, Ola and Grab, as well as in other technology companies

TOKYO: SoftBank Group Corp. Chief Executive Masayoshi Son blasted Japan on Thursday for not allowing ride-sharing services, calling it “stupid” and saying the country was lagging overseas rivals in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI).
“Ride-sharing is prohibited by law in Japan. I can’t believe there is still such a stupid country,” Son said at an annual company event aimed at customers and suppliers.
The comments reflect Son’s frustration with Japan where he built SoftBank’s domestic telecoms business, the cash engine that has powered his investments. The group has, however, focused its growing range of technology investments overseas.
Son has also been highly critical of the government previously when SoftBank was still a fledgling telecoms service trying to break up a cozy duopoly in Japan.
“A country that gives up on the future has no future,” Son told attendees at the SoftBank World event, saying Japanese business is lagging behind countries such as the United States and China in employing AI.
Japan outlaws non-professional drivers from transporting paying customers on safety grounds and the country’s taxi industry lobby has vigorously opposed deregulation.
Its strict rules have confined ride-sharing firms to providing limited services, with SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing saying on Thursday they will trial a taxi-hailing service — matching users to pre-existing taxi operators — in Osaka beginning autumn of 2019. Uber is also piloting a taxi-hailing service.
When asked for a response to Son’s comments, a spokesman for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport said that an issue with ride-sharing services was that while the driver was in charge of transporting passengers, it was unclear who was in charge of maintenance and operation.
“The ministry believes that offering these services for a fee poses problems from the points of both safety and user protection, and careful consideration is necessary,” he said.
Ride-sharing is not the only service in Japan feeling the impact of government restrictions. Strict new rules on home-sharing came into force last month that have radically reduced the number of lettings on sites such as Airbnb Inc.
The curbs on Japan’s nascent sharing economy come despite a rapid rise in the number of inbound tourists likely to access such sharing services, and at a time when Japan is wanting to show its international face ahead of hosting the Rugby World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in 2020.
While Son, an ethnic Korean born in Japan, has at times criticized the Japanese government, he can also be politically suave. He has praised US President Donald Trump with warm words and pledged to invest billions of dollars and create thousands of jobs in the United States.
SoftBank and its nearly $100 billion Vision Fund have invested in ride-sharing firms Uber Technologies Inc, Didi, India’s Ola and Southeast Asia’s Grab, as well as in other technology companies.
The event on Thursday saw presentations from executives at portfolio companies including Didi, General Motors’ autonomous vehicle unit Cruise and India digital payments firm Paytm E-Commerce Pvt Ltd.
Artificial intelligence is the common thread linking these companies, Son said, with that technology in the future able drive vehicles, diagnose diseases and power financial services.


World’s biggest sovereign fund worried about trade wars

Updated 21 August 2018
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World’s biggest sovereign fund worried about trade wars

  • The fund posted a positive return of 1.8 percent, or 167 billion kroner ($19.8 billion), in the second quarter
  • Markets are worried about a trade dispute between the United States and China

OSLO: The managers of Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest, expressed concern Tuesday about global trade tensions, which could heavily impact its value.
The fund posted a positive return of 1.8 percent, or 167 billion kroner ($19.8 billion), in the second quarter, helping erase a loss of 171 billion kroner in January-March that was attributed to a volatile stock market.
The Government Pension Fund Global, which saw its total value swell to 8.33 trillion kroner by the end of June, manages the country’s oil revenues in order to finance Norway’s generous welfare state when its oil and gas wells run dry.
But Norway’s central bank, which runs the fund, said geopolitical and trade tensions presented a risk.
“It’s fair to say that increased trade barriers or even trade wars will not be beneficial for the fund as a long-term global investor,” Trond Grande, the deputy chief of Norges Bank Investment Management, told reporters.
Markets are worried about a trade dispute between the United States and China. Accusing Beijing of unfair competition, the US administration is considering slapping a new round of levies worth $200 billion on Chinese goods.
Talks between the two slated for Wednesday and Thursday aimed at resolving the dispute have however eased concerns somewhat.
Following US-Turkey tensions that sent the Turkish lira and the Istanbul stock market tumbling, the Norwegian fund said its assets there were worth less than the 23 billion kroner they were at the beginning of the year.
“We’ve seen the market rise for a long time, that there are different political and geopolitical events in the world that can affect the market, and we have to be prepared for the fact that (the value of) the fund can go down a lot,” Grande concluded.
The fund’s strong second quarter was attributed primarily to its share portfolio, which accounts for 66.8 percent of its investments and which rose by 2.7 percent.
Real estate holdings, which account for 2.6 percent of its holdings, rose by 1.9 percent, while bond investments, which represent 30.6 percent, remained flat.
Faced with falling oil revenues in recent years, the Norwegian government has been tapping the fund to finance public spending since 2015. But with oil prices recovering, the fund registered its first inflow in three years in June.