SoftBank Group unveils stock split, rakes in higher-than-expected profit on tech bets

Aided by the soaring valuations of its tech investments, SoftBank’s operating profit for the year jumped 80.5 percent to 2.4 trillion yen. Above, a Softbank advertisement in Tokyo. (AP Photo)
Updated 09 May 2019

SoftBank Group unveils stock split, rakes in higher-than-expected profit on tech bets

  • The news comes at a time when SoftBank and its almost $100 billion Vision Fund stand at a possible inflection point with some of its big tech bets
  • The group is also considering listing the Saudi-backed Vision Fund, which has invested roughly $80 billion in around 80 tech firms

DUBAI: Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp. announced a stock split while keeping the per-share dividend unchanged for the year, effectively doubling its shareholder payout, as it also reported a better-than-expected annual profit.
The news comes at a time when SoftBank and its almost $100 billion Vision Fund stand at a possible inflection point with some of its big tech bets such as Uber Technologies heading to trading markets, in what investors and industry experts see as a test of SoftBank’s strategy.
The group is also considering listing the Saudi-backed Vision Fund, which has invested roughly $80 billion in around 80 tech firms, a source told Reuters last week.
A second Vision Fund will be announced soon, SoftBank Group founder and CEO Masayoshi Son said at a news conference on Thursday, adding it would be similar in size to the first fund with SoftBank likely to be the only investor initially.
The value of Vision Fund’s investments in 69 companies had risen to $72.3 billion by end-March, from their $60.1 billion acquisition cost, driven by gains at companies like Uber and Indian hotels startup OYO, SoftBank said on Thursday.
The fund’s stake in Uber, which debuts on Friday, grew 418 billion yen in value, while its share in OYO added 154 billion yen in value. Overall, the fair value rose for 29 firms and fell for 12 over the period, SoftBank said, with the rest unchanged.The value of its stake in Guardant Health, a Vision Fund portfolio company listed last year, grew 203 billion yen.
Aided by the soaring valuations of its tech investments, SoftBank Group’s operating profit for the year ended March jumped 80.5 percent to 2.4 trillion yen ($22 billion).
That was above a 2.1 trillion yen SmartEstimate that gives a greater weighting to top-rated analysts, Refinitiv data shows.
The tech and telecoms group said its common stock will be split at a two-for-one ratio on June 27, while its dividend will remain unchanged at 44 yen per share.
SoftBank’s transition away from telecoms toward tech investments accelerated with the 2.35 trillion yen listing of a third of its domestic telco SoftBank Corp. in December in what is Japan’s largest-ever initial public offering.
That provided the funds for a share buyback that has helped drive up SoftBank Group’s stock by nearly 60 percent this year. The shares closed up 0.7 percent ahead of the earnings.


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste
  • While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”