A pedestrian walks past the logo for telecom and investment giant SoftBank Group along a street in Tokyo on Feb. 8, ahead of the company's earnings reports expected after the markets close later in the day. (AFP-Yonhap)
For Masayoshi Son, these days are even better than the dot-com bubble.
Shares in the Japanese billionaire’s SoftBank Group surged in Tokyo on Tuesday to the highest close since the company went public in 1994, rising past a long-standing record two decades ago.
The shares rose 4.2 percent to finish at 10,420 yen, surpassing its previous record of 10,111.09 yen marked on Feb. 18, 2000. SoftBank’s share price increases have been backed by a surging stock market which lifted the value of its portfolio companies.
The gains come on the heels of last week’s record earnings at its Vision Fund, which reported an $8 billion profit in the three months ended in December. Son has said he wants 10 to 20 of his portfolio companies to go public each year. Already this year, South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang filed for a US listing, which could more than triple the value of SoftBank’s $3 billion investment.
“The global equity market rally is boosting people’s view on SoftBank’s first and second Vision Funds,” said Masahiko Ishino, an analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Center.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for SoftBank, which just last May posted a record fiscal year operating loss of 1.35 trillion yen ($12.5 billion) after missteps with office-sharing provider WeWork and satellite startup OneWeb. The coronavirus pandemic compounded those challenges, putting in jeopardy Son’s investments in the so-called sharing economy. Shares fell as low as 2,687 yen apiece.
In a bid to regain investor support, Son reversed his long-standing aversion to parting with equity investments. He pledged in March to sell off 4.5 trillion yen in assets and buy back 2.5 trillion yen of its own stock. He quickly peddled stakes in China e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, T-Mobile US and SoftBank, the domestic wireless business.
While aggressive buybacks propped up SoftBank Group’s shares last year, surging demand for IPOs pushed the stock to new heights. In November, the Vision Fund reported a record profit, largely due to a $5.1 billion gain from its investment in a Chinese real estate startup called KE Holdings.
This month, SoftBank revealed the Vision Fund had made even more money in the December quarter. A rally in technology shares boosted the value of stakes in publicly traded firms like Uber Technologies Inc. and sparked strong demand for IPOs from portfolio companies such as DoorDash. SoftBank invested about $680 million for a stake in DoorDash that is now worth about $9 billion, Son said last week.
The lofty share price may bring back bubble-era memories, when Son briefly became the world’s richest man from backing hundreds of dot-com startups -- only to see his fortune plunge by $70 billion in a matter of months.
Last week, he revisited his argument that SoftBank is like a goose that lays golden eggs, from Alibaba two decades ago to DoorDash and Coupang now. At one point, he marched in place while an animated goose laid sparkling eggs and music from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker played.
“Since the Vision Fund launched, the number of golden eggs is in accelerating mode,” he said. “We are finally in the harvesting stage.”
With Tuesday’s rally, the stock has surpassed Ishino’s target share price of 10,000 yen. The stock also trades above analysts’ 12-month consensus of 9,592.14 yen, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The 14-day relative strength index on SoftBank stock hovers above the 70 mark, an indication that shares may be poised for a downward correction.
Read more: Masayoshi Son Explains the Vision Behind SoftBank’s Vision Fund Ishino said it’s “possible” for SoftBank’s stock to head for levels near 15,000 yen, as Son has asked investors to evaluate the stock based on its net asset value, or the value of its equity holdings less its net debt. SoftBank calculated its net asset value at 14,935 yen a share as of Jan. 1, with much of that coming from Alibaba.
“My eyes are on how the net asset value growth takes its course from here,” Ishino said. “Currently, it relies heavily on Alibaba. The focus will be on whether it is able to lift expectations for its other investments in the two Vision Funds, as it cuts back on Alibaba.” (Bloomberg)