Bloomberg — SoftBank Group Corp. shares plunged as much as 12% Monday in its biggest intraday drop since the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020, after the company failed to announce a widely-expected stock buyback.
The company’s core Vision Fund segment posted a $7.2 billion loss in the July-September quarter, following a record 2.33 trillion yen ($17 billion) loss in the preceding period, as sliding startup valuations force the world’s biggest technology investor to go into defensive mode and virtually halt investments.
SoftBank has been grappling with declines on its portfolio of more than 400 investments in both public and private tech companies around the world, which includes China’s SenseTime Group Inc., US food delivery firm DoorDash Inc. and Indonesian ride-hailing and e-commerce firm GoTo Group. Cumulative returns on SoftBank’s Vision Fund and Latin America portfolio plummeted from a gain of $56 billion a year ago to an overall loss of $1.5 billion in its most recent report.
SoftBank’s stock price surged in the early weeks of the current quarter as the Tokyo-based company raced to complete two share repurchases: a 1 trillion yen buyback program announced last year and a 400 billion yen program announced in August. The aggressive pace of the buybacks spurred expectations of a fresh injection and speculation that billionaire founder Masayoshi Son was planning to lead a buyout to take the company private.
The lack of a buyback prompted analysts at Deutsche Bank, CLSA and Jefferies to downgrade their ratings on the stock. Citi assigned SoftBank a “High Risk” rating, citing capital market uncertainty and related impact for the company’s earnings.
“We were looking for another round of buyback announcement but there was none,” Jefferies analyst Atul Goyal said in a report. “We believe the risk-reward has now become unfavorable and asymmetric.”
As SoftBank pivots focus to its balance sheet, it has also been hurrying to offload assets, including a disposal of its prized Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. stake, lifting its bottom line in paying down debt. The profit from that sale helped buoy it to a net income of 3.03 trillion yen in the quarter just ended, despite the Vision Fund losses. The company’s total interest-bearing debt, excluding telecom arm SoftBank Corp., stood at 13.7 trillion yen, down from more than 17 trillion yen at the end of June.
While further asset sales may result in future buybacks, the company is likely to sit still for now, given its recent stock performance, said Deutsche Bank’s Peter Milliken in a report.
--With assistance from Vlad Savov
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