Masayoshi Son admits blunder in US$4.7b loss from WeWork investmentBusiness | 7 Nov 2019 11:26 am
SoftBank, the Japanese technology conglomerate famous for seismic and visionary bets, has lost US$4.7 billion in the WeWork debacle, the company said Wednesday.
SoftBank posted losses of 700 billion yen (US$6.4 billion) in the July-September quarter, with the damage coming largely from its Vision Fund, created to invest in startups like WeWork and Uber. The massive loss compares with a 526 billion yen profit during the same period last year.
Uber sank to another all-time low Wednesday, two days after posting losses of more than US$1 billion during its most recent quarter.
SoftBank’s founder, Masayoshi Son, said in a presentation Wednesday that he regretted “mistaken investment moves.”
But Son also said the situation at WeWork was under control and that he expects to turn the shared-office space company around.
SoftBank has slashed the market value of WeWork to below US$8 billion, a far cry from the US$47 billion valuation it was given just months ago.
“The perception is that SoftBank is being dragged down into the quagmire of WeWork,” Son said. “I am looking back with true regret about the mistaken investment moves that I have made.”
Son has a record of prophetic investments in companies like Alibaba, often referred to as the Amazon.com of China, which recorded revenue last year exceeding US$56 billion.
However, he was forced Wednesday to acknowledge recent missteps, particularly in regard to WeWork and its co-founder Adam Neumann.
In late September, Neumann largely severed ties with WeWork after a disastrous attempt to take the company public amid reports of lavish spending. He also pursued a number of questionable practices, such as leasing buildings he partly owned back to the company.
“He had (a) good side and bad side to be honest. And his good sides, I think we - well, I overestimated Adam’s good side which I should have known better and more,” Son said Wednesday. “And his negative side, in many cases, I turned a blind eye to it especially when it comes to governance.”
Last month, SoftBank announced a US$9.5 billion bailout for WeWork, including US$5 billion in new financing. The company did not release figures on how that rescue would affect its finances going forward.
Son promised a turnaround at WeWork, saying it’s “not a sinking ship.” He said he has sent in SoftBank Chief Operating Office Marcelo Claure, who oversaw a merger at Sprint, to lead WeWork and beef up its corporate governance.
Son said WeWork was losing money from initial construction and design costs but, with time, its properties will become profitable. SoftBank says it has ample cash to handle WeWork’s woes.
“There is no storm, and things are under control,” Son said.
Son said investors are still reaping profits from the Vision Fund and that the division’s value for shareholders has not fallen. In addition to WeWork, Uber and Alibaba, SoftBank invests in a wide array of ventures like car-sharing services Didi and Grab; Yahoo and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Son pointed out that while Uber’s share price has fallen recently, it has risen since SoftBank invested in it.
Though the problems at WeWork and Uber were the prevailing topics Wednesday, SoftBank did score some victories. This week it won long-sought U.S. regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission for a merger between the carriers Sprint and T-Mobile. SoftBank owns a majority stake in Sprint. The merger was delayed by anti-trust concerns and other problems, including several lawsuits. T-Mobile says it expects the deal to close next year.
SoftBank’s quarterly sales slipped by 3 percent to 2.32 trillion yen (US$21 billion) from 2.38 trillion yen the same period the previous year.
Shares of SoftBank that are traded in the U.S. fell by 2.5 percent. Shares traded in Japan finished 0.7 percent higher on Wednesday, at 4,322 yen (US$40).-AP