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SoftBank recovers with $12bn profit after record losses, WeWork debacle

Group pulls back after turbulent financial year that saw investment woes, including in the troubled office-sharing firm co-founded by Israeli Adam Neumann

A woman walks past a SoftBank mobile store in Tokyo on August 11, 2020 (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)
A woman walks past a SoftBank mobile store in Tokyo on August 11, 2020 (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

TOKYO (AFP) — SoftBank Group on Tuesday reported a $12 billion quarterly net profit to June, recovering from eye-watering losses as tech stocks rally and the firm sheds assets to shore up its finances.

The results will be a relief for chief Masayoshi Son, who has faced an increasing drumbeat of criticism after recent record losses for the firm.

Son transformed what began as a telecom company into an investment and tech behemoth with stakes in some of Silicon Valley’s hottest start-ups through its $100 billion Vision Fund.

But he has battled opposition to his strategy of pouring money into start-ups — including troubled office-sharing firm WeWork — which some analysts say are overvalued and lack clear profit models.

SoftBank Group Corp. CEO Masayoshi Son speaks during a SoftBank World presentation at a hotel in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)

The 11.9 percent rise in net profit to 1.26 trillion yen ($12 billion) puts SoftBank back in the black after a turbulent financial year that saw its investment woes magnified by the coronavirus pandemic and plunges in global stock markets.

Son has insisted that his strategy is sound, and that SoftBank’s portfolio is broad enough to weather the storm, but acknowledged the challenges when the firm reported an $8.9 billion annual net loss in May, hit by the WeWork debacle and stock crashes.

The results come after SoftBank launched an aggressive plan to sell up to $41 billion in assets to finance a stock buy-back, after Son said shares were undervalued.

The fundraising was also intended to reduce the firm’s debts and increase cash reserves.

Paired with the recent recovery in tech stock prices, the strategy appears to be paying off, analysts said.

“SoftBank has achieved a V-shape recovery,” said Tomoaki Kawasaki, an analyst at Iwai Cosmo Securities.

Kawasaki told AFP that investor sentiment had been boosted by the firm’s decision to sell assets and buy back shares.

“But we still need to carefully watch SoftBank’s performance, which is heavily subject to stock markets,” he added.

SoftBank shares closed down 2.45% to 6,361 yen ($59.79) shortly before the results were announced, up significantly from their March low of 2,687 yen ($25.26).

The massive monetization program announced earlier this year has already seen SoftBank sell off 4.3 trillion yen ($40.4 billion) of the planned 4.5 trillion yen ($42.3 billion), Son said at a press conference after the earnings were released.

The CEO, whose earnings presentations are often characterized by colorful comparisons, described the pandemic as “like a war” and called the monetization project a defense strategy.

“We the entrepreneurs are also fighting against various types of challenges… by having cash on hand, we will be able to enhance our defensive power,” Son said.

 ‘Numerous uncertainties’

The firm also reported 983 billion yen ($9.2 billion) in investment gains for the quarter to June, including profit from its Vision Fund.

But it warned that the pandemic continued to cause uncertainty, bolstering its investments in e-commerce and food delivery firms, but hammering those in the hotel and hospitality sectors.

It said it would not offer a forecast “due to numerous uncertainties affecting earnings.”

A sign marks the location of a WeWork office facility on August 14, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

Son has struggled to interest investors in a second round of the Vision Fund as he deals with the woes of some of his most high-profile investments, notably WeWork.

WeWork founder Adam Neumann speaks in Shanghai, China, April 12, 2018. (Jackal Pan/Visual China Group via Getty Images/via JTA)

Once hailed as a dazzling unicorn valued at $47 billion, the office-sharing start-up has suffered a stunning fall from grace.

Son stood by his investment, even upping his stake, but things began to unravel last year as WeWork hemorrhaged cash and cancelled its share offering, with founder Adam Neumann pushed out.

SoftBank this year scrapped a plan to buy up to $3 billion WeWork shares as part of a restructuring program, and the start-up is now suing for alleged breach of contract.

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