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SoftBank to skip Tesla deal as it focuses on other auto bets: sources

by Ed Hammond

Bloomberg

Speculation about who may or may not finance Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk’s audacious plan to take the carmaker private is distracting deal-makers from a normally quiet August spent in the Hamptons or southern France.

As the intrigue enters a second week, with pressure increasing on the billionaire founder to explain how a deal would be funded, one of the world’s most active investors has already ruled itself out.

SoftBank Group Corp., the Japanese conglomerate that has been touted as a potential source of capital for a buyout of the carmaker, isn’t planning to participate in such a deal, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The company, which held talks with Musk in 2017 about a possible investment, isn’t interested in revisiting such a plan, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the details aren’t public.

The reason for SoftBank’s lack of interest is, the people said, two-fold. The company has already placed its bets on the future of the automobile, plowing $2.25 billion into General Motors Co.’s autonomous vehicle unit Cruise in May, with that coming on top of investments it has already made in ride-hailing companies DiDi Chuxing Inc., Uber Technologies Inc. and Singapore’s Grab. It also reflects the fact that Tesla, once the clear leader in the electric-car market, is facing increasing competition and has yet to deliver on its mass production ambitions.

A spokesperson for SoftBank declined to comment.

SoftBank’s decision to back away from any potential Tesla deal is noteworthy given its self-styled reputation as the investor du jour for any technology or tech-enabled asset that comes to market. The group’s Vision Fund — an almost $100 billion pool of capital dedicated to investing in the industry — has recently invested in coworking company WeWork Co. and food-delivery service DoorDash Inc.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV on Thursday, Marcelo Claure, SoftBank’s chief operating officer, said “most entrepreneurs today who want to do a big transaction, or who are looking for a partner to help them expand their business, we will have conversations with them.” The comments, along with wide-reaching speculation that SoftBank was an obvious candidate to invest in Tesla, coincided with a decline in the group’s Tokyo-listed shares on Friday.

Wall Street is awash with speculation on who might team up with Musk to do a deal. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is in talks that could see it becoming a significant investor in Tesla as part of Musk’s plan to take the company private, people with knowledge of the fund’s plans said earlier Sunday.

Musk and his advisers are seeking a wide pool of investors to back a potential deal. The 47-year-old, who also serves as chairman of Tesla, would prefer to amass a group of investors who could each contribute part of the funds because he wants to avoid having one or two large new stakeholders in the company, separate people familiar with the details said Friday.