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Softbank warns of $17bn blow to Vision Fund investments

COVID-19 is causing waves across the world, and now Japanese telco Softbank has warned the pandemic might well be the cause of ¥1.8 trillion ($17 billion) loss in the investment unit.

With the earning results for full year 2019 due on May 11, Softbank has released a statement to warn investors of some very dampened fortunes. Due to the impact of COVID-19, Softbank is forecasting an operating loss of roughly $12.5 billion, mostly due to the $17 billion blow dealt to the Vision Fund.

To make matters worse, Softbank is also warning of an additional ¥800 million (roughly $7.4 billion) loss to investments which are being held outside the Vision Fund, including WeWork and OneWeb.

Although it is hardly unusual for a company to make adjustments to financial forecasts due to current trading conditions, Twitter and Microsoft are two others who have made similar statements to investors, the impact might be compounded thanks to Softbank’s diversity and some questionable bets.

In 2018, Softbank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son attempted to add diversity to the business through the creation of an investment vehicle, the Vision Fund, though this is where the firm is exposed today. With the Dow Jones and FTSE 100 down 20% and 21% respectively since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US and Europe, being an investor in the technology space is a tricky vocation today.

Some of Softbank’s investments are looking pretty positive, Slack for instance, but others are being hit hard by the outbreak. Cash which has been pumped into the real estate industry is not necessarily looking healthy, neither are bets into transportation and logistics. Uber, one of the companies in the portfolio, has seen share price decline by more than 30%.

Outside the impact of COVID-19, there are also other investments which are going sideways. WeWork has proven to be a flop, with the coronavirus covering up much deeper failings, while OneWeb recently filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

What is worth noting is that not all of the investments made by the Softbank Vision Fund are bad. Investors in such businesses usually have to accept the risk that not every gamble pays off, and while the coronavirus is negatively impacting the investments, it does not mean it will always be a loss maker. Over the last two years, investors have been enjoying the profits of Masayoshi Son’s VC ambitions, and we suspect it will be the same once COVID-19 stops wreaking havoc with society.

The question is what will happen in the interim period? Will investors understand this is only short-term pain, or will there be calls for actions to return to the traditional ways of telcos making money?


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