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Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive of Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp, is expected to report in May the highest group net income for a listed Japanese company in any quarter dating back to 1990. Photo: Bloomberg

SoftBank Vision Fund’s profit nears US$30 billion on Coupang IPO, ByteDance stake

  • ​Coupang’s US$4.6 billion offering marks SoftBank’s best return since Alibaba’s listing in 2014
  • Vision Fund will also book a gain on its 3 per cent stake in ByteDance, the TikTok owner with a US$140 billion valuation
SoftBank Group Corp’s Vision Fund profit may reach an unprecedented US$30 billion in the March quarter, almost quadrupling the record it had just set, according to people familiar with the matter.
Profit in the unit was supercharged by the successful initial public offering of Coupang, the South Korean e-commerce leader which debuted in New York last month. That will account for the lion’s share of what is expected to be between US$25 billion and US$30 billion in reported gains for the three months ended March 31, the people said, asking not to be named because the details are not yet public. SoftBank is expected to report its latest financial results on May 12.
The markets are delivering their strongest validation yet for SoftBank founder and chief executive Masayoshi Son’s oft-criticised strategy of pouring massive amounts of cash into mature start-ups. The Vision Fund’s portfolio of more than 160 investments will record its third straight quarter of record profits helped by a global initial public offering (IPO) rush that has seen companies worldwide raise more than US$200 billion in 2021.

When Son takes the stage to report the latest results, he will probably have one more milestone to celebrate: group net income that is the highest ever for a listed Japanese company in any quarter dating back to 1990, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. SoftBank already holds the top spot, setting the current high of 1.26 trillion yen (US$11.5 billion) in June.

Delivery trucks for e-commerce retailer Coupang leave a distribution centre in Seoul, South Korea, on June 21, 2018. Photo: Reuters
​Coupang’s US$4.6 billion offering was the second biggest this year and marks SoftBank’s best return since Alibaba Group Holding’s listing in 2014. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.
The coming months will also see some of Son’s largest and most controversial bets test the market, including ride-hailing giants Grab Holdings and Didi Chuxing as well as the troubled office-sharing company WeWork.

“The markets are very encouraged and supportive of what the Vision Fund has been able to do with its investments,” said Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners in Singapore. “Clearly, there is still a lot of money out there that needs to find a home.”

Coupang’s shares ended the quarter 41 per cent higher than its mid-March IPO. The Vision Fund invested in November 2018 in a US$2 billion deal that valued Coupang at US$9 billion. That funding followed US$1 billion from SoftBank itself in 2015, valuing the start-up at about US$5 billion. The Japanese conglomerate’s 33 per cent stake was worth close to US$28 billion as of March 31.

SoftBank will also book a valuation gain of about US$2 billion on its stake in Uber Technologies, which rose about 7 per cent in the quarter, according to the people. The fund sold US$2 billion worth of stock in the ride-hailing company in January, eking out a small profit. Another US$1.2 billion gain will come from its stake in Auto1 Group, a German wholesale platform for used cars which went public in February.
SoftBank Group Corp has about a 3 per cent stake in ByteDance, the Beijing-based company that owns popular short video apps TikTok and Douyin. Photo: Reuters

The Vision Fund will also book a gain on its stake in ByteDance, the Chinese parent of hit video app TikTok. SoftBank owns about 3 per cent of the company, a stake it acquired mostly at a US$63 billion valuation in secondary markets in addition to a direct investment at a US$75 billion valuation, the people said. The company has since hit US$140 billion, according to market researcher CB Insights, and traded at US$250 billion in private transactions, Bloomberg News reported.

Even WeWork, one of Son’s biggest missteps in recent years, will contribute to profit. After its failed IPO attempt and a bailout by SoftBank in 2019, the office-sharing company saw its worth tumble to US$2.9 billion last year amid the pandemic – a far cry from its once-lofty US$47 billion valuation. WeWork now plans to go public via a blank-check company in a deal that would value it at US$9 billion.

Some Vision Fund investments will see their value marked down, though gains will more than offset those losses, the people said. The fund will take a write-down of about US$500 million on Greensill Capital, the supply-chain finance company owned by billionaire Lex Greensill that filed for insolvency last month. The valuation of Oyo Hotels will be reduced by several hundred million dollars.

How SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son became Japan’s third-richest billionaire

“Coupang is a home run for the Vision Fund. And there is likely to be more good news around Didi, ByteDance, Grab and even WeWork,” said Atul Goyal, a senior analyst at Jefferies. “But profits are meaningful when they recur. These gains are neither operating nor recurring.”

SoftBank does not have to sell equity holdings to book income, so its profits are often just on paper. It reports income when the value of companies like Coupang rise, boosting the value of its stock. Its accounting practices comply with industry standards.

About half of the capital raised in the IPOs so far this year has gone to special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) and SoftBank has joined the frenzy, listing several blank-check companies since the start of the year. The three SPACs created by the Vision Fund have a combined market capitalisation of about US$1.5 billion.

The markets are delivering their strongest validation yet for SoftBank founder and chief executive Masayoshi Son’s oft-criticised strategy of pouring massive amounts of cash into mature start-ups. Photo: Reuters

At the previous earnings briefing in February, Son said SoftBank may see between 10 and 20 public listings a year. Grab said this week it will go public through the largest-ever merger with a blank-check company, valuing the Southeast Asian ride-hailing and delivery giant at about US$40 billion. Its Chinese counterpart Didi has filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for an IPO that could value the company as high as US$70 billion to US$100 billion.

“The wind will probably continue to be at Son’s back for some time,” said United First Partners’ Tang. “But matching last fiscal year’s performance would be quite a feat.”