Researcher of Shenzhen Blockchain Application Association
Masayoshi Son says his SoftBank Group is the goose that lays the golden eggs.
At the group’s earnings meeting on Feb. 8, he wasted no time in telling attendees about his recent investments in artificial intelligence startups and said he wanted to replicate a number of unicorns in Japan, sweeping away the sluggishness he felt in front of investors this time last year.
The bottom line is that SoftBank’s results have improved dramatically, with a total net profit of about $29.9 billion between April and September 2020 (up 371 percent year-over-year). Nearly 40% of this profit was made in the last three months ($11.7 billion), and the year-over-year increase for this period was an impressive 879.5%.
SoftBank’s profits were made up of a variety of investment income, helped by last year’s hot stock market. in the fourth quarter of 2020, the SoftBank Group made a profit of $13.45 billion through the appreciation of its investments in the Vision I and II funds, and another $1.035 billion through speculation in the secondary market by the Group itself and its NorthStar unit. This helped SoftBank to have its best quarter ever.
“We’re finally in the harvest phase,” Son said at the revenue press conference.
But he also said the profits were just accounting bookkeeping numbers, not happy or sad. “As a businessman, as an entrepreneur, this is not a satisfactory level yet. We still have room to grow.”
At this point, a slide behind him shows a goose with a sign around its neck saying “Artificial Intelligence for Change.” As he spoke, the goose on the slide laid golden eggs. Each egg represents a successful IPO exit that SoftBank is betting on.
But this bookkeeping is extremely volatile. Tens of billions of dollars of profit in good times, and when the market is poor, such as in early 2020, it is easy to generate a lot of losses. Warren Buffett, who also holds a lot of underlying investments, has warned investors not to pay too much attention to his net profit changes, because that does not truly reflect the company’s operations.
Note 1: SoftBank’s cumulative investment income from its big openings.
This follows the loss of WeWork investments and the shrinking valuations of several other companies that led SoftBank to lose nearly $17 billion in the fiscal year ending March 2020. The market didn’t believe him — SoftBank shares fell to a two-decade low early last year; shareholders didn’t believe him — and no institution was willing to inject capital into the second phase of the Vision Fund.
“In the second half of the first phase of the Vision Fund, we had some difficulties, didn’t perceive some situations, got a lot of criticism and learned a lot of lessons,” Son said. “But at the time, I mentioned that we had learned our lessons…and despite our unpopularity, we just launched Vision Fund II with our own money to run this business. Our vision and strategy never changed.”
As of Feb. 5 of this year, the 12 public companies in Phase I of the Vision Fund added $25.464 billion in value to SoftBank.
The three listed companies in Phase II added $5.349 billion in value. SoftBank also launched four shell companies (SPACs) dedicated to mergers and raised $1.4 billion from investors.
Note 2: Investment income of Vision Fund I as of 2021.2.5
Excluding Alibaba and Yahoo, the biggest contributors to SoftBank’s profits were Doordash (+$10.7 billion), a take-out company that went public last December, and Uber (+$5.1 billion), which went public even earlier.
DoorDash has benefited from the post-epidemic boom in the U.S. take-out restaurant market and the abundance of capital in the market after the Federal Reserve’s big let-down. from January to September 2020, Doordash’s revenue was $1.92 billion, nearly four times the same period in 2019.
Uber’s share price recovery is also linked to takeaways, as UberEats fills the revenue gap left by its shrinking ride-hailing business and tries to recoup capital and improve margins by selling businesses such as the money-burning Autopilot in a bid to meet the company’s commitment to the board of directors to break even by the fourth quarter of 2021.
The valuation fix is partly due to the fact that its main business, online taxi orders, has exceeded year-ago levels and that Drip has made progress in a number of new businesses, and partly because the market value of Uber, which it uses as a benchmark, has rebounded sharply.
Alibaba and Ant Group are inseparable topics for Masayoshi Son. Both because of SoftBank’s significant interests in the two companies, and because he and Jack Ma maintain a personal relationship of up to two decades.
So when reporters got to the Q&A session, Masayoshi Son was quickly asked how he viewed China’s recent introduction of new regulatory policies such as anti-monopoly guidelines, and whether he had recently contacted Jack Ma and how he viewed his Bund speech.
Masayoshi Son took a more positive view of regulatory adjustments overall. He said things like Ali and Tencent are now probably in the middle of such (monopoly) discussions for the first time, after Chinese Internet companies did almost anything they wanted to do.
But in Europe and the United States, antitrust laws and strict financial regulation have long been in place, and SoftBank has had problems and setbacks in those markets and will learn from them. A similar regulatory framework is necessary for larger, longer-term business growth, and the policy adjustments in China are “not beyond what we’ve seen in our own country, in the U.S., or in Europe. So I think we will continue to see good growth and even a more positive impact on the future of the Internet.”
On the issue of Jack Ma, Son said the two exchanged hobbies like painting and did not talk business. As for the Bund speech, “I don’t know the details, I just know from the news what happened and I don’t want to make any detailed comments.”
But he re-expressed his positive view of Alibaba, “Alibaba and Ant Group have been a very worrying topic for the market, and we have experienced and seen Alibaba’s share price fall. I understand that many people are worried, but it has recovered at this stage. Last week Alibaba also announced a 50% increase in net profit, so the business itself is actually running smoothly and growing steadily. That’s how I understand it.”
Create your free account to unlock your custom reading experience.