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SoftBank reportedly looking to chance its Arm

The apparent SoftBank fire sale looks set to continue with the rumour that even crown jewel ARM is on the table.

It comes courtesy of a WSJ report, which cites its ever-convenient ‘people familiar with the matter’ as the source. They reckon SoftBank is in the process of contemplating a full sale, a partial sale or an IPO of its ARM business unit, which it acquired for £24 billion four years ago. Assuming the strategic benefits of owning the world’s leading chip designer haven’t diminished in that time, the only reason SoftBank would contemplate such a thing must be a cashflow crisis.

The thing is, SoftBank isn’t really a telecoms company anymore. While it remains one of the main Japanese telcos, it has retreated from the US and now seems more interested in taking random punts on whatever company its CEO reads about in the Nikkei of a given morning. Many of those bets have proven catastrophic, with WeWork and OneWeb among the worst.

Putting Arm on the table poses an even bigger question than what it says about SoftBank’s strategy, however, which is: who will buy it? What is Huawei, for example, managed to dig up a few billion bucks and decided owning Arm would solve its US-imposed chip problems? Or even the Chinese state, which would presumably relish the opportunity to give the US a taste of its own medicine by denying all American companies access to ARM IP.

With the ICT industry becoming increasingly politicised, any major piece of M&A suddenly takes on geopolitical strategic significance. If Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son is half as smart as he apparently thinks he is, he should be in Washington DC right now, whispering in President Trump’s ear about what a damn shame it would be if Chinese interests prevailed in a bidding war for Arm.

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