SoftBank's Masayoshi Son is pivoting to AI and chips: What we know - Hindustan Times

SoftBank's Masayoshi Son is pivoting to AI and chips: What we know

Bloomberg |
May 10, 2024 12:01 PM IST

Masayoshi Son turns away from aggressive style of venture capital investing, leaving the fund’s reduced staff as mostly caretakers.

SoftBank Group Corp.’s flagship Vision Fund has quietly sold off or written down billions of dollars’ worth of its publicly-listed holdings in recent years, a sign of founder Masayoshi Son’s shift away from the venture capital deals that were once an obsession and toward strategic investments in semiconductors and artificial intelligence.

SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son is seen. (Reuters)
SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son is seen. (Reuters)

Since the end of 2021, the world’s biggest startup fund has seen its US-listed portfolio shrink by almost $29 billion, as it sold down stakes in companies such as Coupang Inc., DoorDash Inc. and Grab Holdings Ltd. and share prices fell, regulatory filings show. That figure doesn’t include the sale of the Vision Fund’s stake in chip designer Arm Holdings Plc back to SoftBank last year. The one-time tech kingmaker is now a shadow of its former self, having laid off more than a hundred staff and slowed new investments to a fraction of its past pace.

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Son is selling off assets from the fund’s portfolio as he prepares for possible forays into AI and related hardware, said people familiar with the billionaire’s thinking. SoftBank’s equity capital market team — a group of traders from the likes of Goldman Sachs — has played a central role in monetizing the Vision Fund’s sizable stakes with minimal market disruption, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing matters that are private.

Many of the investments led by the SoftBank chairman now bypass the Vision Fund and are orchestrated by the holding company. While Son long teased the possibility of a series of Vision Funds launched every two to three years, the prospect of a third Vision Fund — let alone a fourth — no longer comes up, said the people.

Instead, the fund’s reduced staff are mostly caretakers. The equity capital market team is instrumental in detecting the most opportune moments for assets sales, at times through block trades on secondary markets, the people said. They are concentrating on locking in investment gains and reversing any losses.

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Son has moved on to new obsessions, inspired in part by the success of Arm. The chip designer’s market value has soared to around $106 billion since its market debut last year, making SoftBank’s 90% holding worth more than all of SoftBank.

One possible Son project on the horizon: bankrolling a $100 billion chip venture to compete with Nvidia Corp. and supply semiconductors to power the development of AI services. The 66-year-old’s plans remain in flux, the people said.

The SoftBank asset sale disclosures come from 13F filings to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and represent only the fund’s US-listed companies. That comprises about half of its publicly-listed portfolio firms by fair value. The Vision Fund also has been gradually selling down stakes in Indian startup Paytm and China’s SenseTime Group Inc., with SoftBank now owning less than 5% of either firm.

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In terms of SoftBank's overall net asset value, which subtracts liabilities, the Vision Fund contributed ¥7.3 trillion ($47 billion) at the end of December compared with about ¥9.5 trillion at the end of 2021. Arm’s contribution by the same measure came to ¥6.1 trillion at end-December.

A SoftBank representative declined to comment.

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