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SoftBank chief Masayoshi Son eyes telecoms IPO within 2018

Reuters, Bloomberg

SoftBank Group Corp. said Wednesday that it wants to list its Japanese telecoms unit this year, a move toward completing its transformation from a domestic telecoms upstart into one of the world’s biggest technology investors.

SoftBank hopes to list shares of its core Japanese telecoms unit, SoftBank Corp, this year, Son told reporters, adding that the proceeds “will be used to strengthen our financial balance and for group growth.”

The company flagged last month that it was considering listing the business, seeking to raise a reported ¥2 trillion ($18 billion).

SoftBank has long relied on its domestic telecoms business, which makes up a third of overall sales but two-thirds of profit, as a stable source of cash that can be diverted to its growing number of investments around the world.

Founder and CEO Masayoshi Son established the more than $93 billion Vision Fund, the world’s largest private-equity fund, which has funneled more than $9 billion into global startups since its inception in 2016, Thomson Reuters data showed.

Investments announced this year include leading an $865 million investment in construction startup Katerra, a $300 million investment in dog-walking app Wag and the closure of a deal to become Uber Technologies Inc.’s largest shareholder.

SoftBank has moved from making early-stage investments in companies such as Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. — a $20 million bet that paid off spectacularly and helped cement Son’s reputation — to making investments of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in later stage startups, an approach widely seen as contributing to a spike in valuations.

Over three decades, Son used borrowed money to transform the software wholesaler he founded in 1981 into a phone company spanning two continents.

In Japan, he built a challenger to larger carriers and was first to bring Apple Inc.’s iPhone to the country. He bought Sprint Corp. to take on the top players in the U.S., Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc.

SoftBank veteran executive Ken Miyauchi has run the mobile business since 2015, and took charge of all domestic operations the following year as Son increasingly devoted more of his time to overseas bets.

The 60-year-old billionaire made about 100 investments last year — from ride-sharing, co-working and robotics to agriculture, cancer detection and autonomous driving — with a total value of $36 billion, according to research firm Preqin. That’s more than Silicon Valley’s top two heavyweights, Sequoia Capital and Silver Lake, combined.

Separately on Wednesday, the company reported a 2.8 percent fall in third-quarter operating profit, due in part to higher costs. It did not release a forecast for the current business year, saying there were too many uncertain factors.