Masayoshi Son has reduced the number of SoftBank Group Corp. shares he’s pledged as collateral to lenders by about $810 million, cutting back after heavy borrowing had raised questions about the stability of his technology empire.

Son trimmed his committed shares by about 14 million to 213 million, according to regulatory filings. The billionaire holds about 562 million shares directly and indirectly, which are worth $33 billion before taking into account collateral.

Son has revived SoftBank’s fortunes after the stock plunged in March because of business missteps and concerns about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on his portfolio of startups. SoftBank has since embarked on record asset sales and stock buybacks, helping more than double the share price from a low six months ago.

The SoftBank founder was asked about the issue in May and he said he had borrowed about ¥500 billion ($4.7 billion) against stock worth more than ¥2 trillion.

"It’s about 20 percent of what I own so I don’t think it’s a big problem,” he said at the time.

A SoftBank spokesman declined to comment further. The shares rose 1.26 percent in Tokyo trading Friday.

It’s not unusual for top executives to borrow against their shares. As of June 30 though, Son had committed about 40 percent of his equity to lenders, among the highest pledges, according to regulatory filings reviewed for the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

A Thursday filing showed a decline of about 18 million in Son’s committed shares. Then on Friday, that total was revised in a new filing indicating he increased his pledged shares to a Nomura Holdings Inc. unit by 4.4 million.

Son has pledged the most shares to Credit Suisse Group AG and Daiwa Securities Group Inc., followed by more than a dozen other banks, the Thursday filing showed. Bank of Singapore was added as a lender since March, with 4.72 million shares committed.

One analyst took the news to mean that Son is unlikely to attempt taking SoftBank private, an idea that resurfaced in recent weeks as the company sold assets and raised cash.

"Now we hear he is cutting his shares pledged to lenders,” wrote Amir Anvarzadeh, a market strategist at Asymmetric Advisors in Singapore. "If there was going to be a buyout for this Y12trn market cap name, surely he would need as much leverage as he can get his hands on.”

Separately, Son cut back on the stock that he has loaned out to financial institutions, reducing the total to about 100 million shares from 145.5 million in March.

While the two figures are often mixed together, the transactions serve different purposes. An executive like Son would typically pledge shares as collateral to receive cash from financial institutions, perhaps to avoid the taxes or loss of control that come with selling shares.

On the other hand, he might lend stock to financial institutions for a return to increase market liquidity. The institutions may work with short sellers, for example, who are betting on a decline in the price.

The result typically is that shares loaned out by an executive don’t have the same kind of risk as shares pledged as collateral. An equity holder like Son can reclaim the former without having to repay loans.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.