SoftBank : ''The empire of Son''. The Japanese tech-investing group has pulled off a stunning comeback. But some of its flaws remain.

Every Day, from 8am to 10pm, Son Masayoshi sits in his mansion in Tokyo doing what entertains him like nothing else : sizing up technology entrepreneurs and handing out money.

Working from home has not slowed down the billionaire boss of SoftBank. At the Japanese group's earning call on May 12th Masa, as he is universally known, boasted of backing 60 companies in three months. Between January and March he doled out $210 million a week.

In the past four years SoftBank has poured $84 billion or so into startups. It was the world's biggest tech investor even before complementing a $98.6 billion vehicle it runs, the Vision Fund, with a sibling that now contains $30 billion.

The 224 tech firms it has backed range from early-stage startups to established giants like ByteDance, owner of TikTok, a Gen-z time-sink. Names such as Plenty, Better and Forward imply missions to transform industries like food, health and banking.

Going by the valuations used by SoftBank and other venture capital [VC] funds, the backed companies are collectively worth a colossal $1.1 trillion, according to PitchBook, a data provider.

In Spring 2020 SoftBank's entire tech edifice nearly came tumbling down. As Covid-19 spread and markets convulsed, SoftBank's lenders took fright. Yields on its bonds surged. Investors wondered how - or if - Mr. Son's punts might weather the pandemic.

His signature approach - big bets based less on spreadsheets than on ''feeling the force'' of a deal - looked riskier than ever. The initial public offering [IPO] of WeWork, an office-sharing firm, collapsed in late 2019, before the pandemic. Between February and March 2020, SoftBan's share price plunged by over 50%.

''Masa got close to the flame,'' sums up a person close to SoftBank. But then the market rebounded. The Federal Reserve was pumping in liquidity by supporting the market for junk-rated corporate bonds [Softbank's debt is rated below investment grade]. SoftBank announced a sale of $41 billion of its $252 billion in total assets in order to shore up its position.

NOW Mr. Son is once again looking like a genius. Backing tech darlings proved the perfect strategy in the digitally accelerated coronavirus economy. His hunches have paid off.

In just over a year SoftBank has gone from survival mode to spewing out cash like a giant ATM.

The listing of Coupang, a South Korean e-merchant, reaped SoftBank $24 billion in profits. Several more firms it has backed launched into an IPO market that turned red-hot last summer.

Last summer SoftBank reported an annual net profit of $46 billion the highest ever by a Japanese company. And more is to come :

On June 10th Didi Chuxing, a Chinese ride hailing firm one-fifth owned by SoftBank, said it would list its shares at a valuation of around $100 billion. Despite a recent dip, SoftBank is worth a cool $126 billion more than at the trough in March 2020.

The Publishing continues into the future. The  World Students Society thanks The Economist.


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