SoftBank Group Corp. shares climbed to a new 20-year high as investors rally behind founder Masayoshi Son’s more cautious strategy of selling assets, paring debt and buying back shares.
The Tokyo-based company’s stock gained more than 3% to ¥7,244, the highest level since March of 2000 in the midst of the dot-com boom. The stock had already hit several two-decade highs in the second half of this year after a record plunge in March with the coronavirus pandemic.
Long known for his extravagant spending on acquisitions and investments, Son reversed course this year after the COVID-19 outbreak and management missteps. He unveiled plans to sell ¥4.5 trillion ($43 billion) in assets and buy back a record ¥2.5 trillion of his own stock. Shares are up more than 160% from their March low.
“It’s a big turning point for SoftBank,” said Naoki Fujiwara, chief fund manager at Shinkin Asset Management Co. “They reversed course to defensive from offensive, shining a spotlight on the value of their assets.”
By the end of June, Son had offloaded $13.7 billion of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. stock, an even larger chunk of his stake in T-Mobile U.S. Inc. and some shares of SoftBank Corp., the Japanese telecommunications affiliate. He then announced the sale of chip designer Arm Ltd. to Nvidia Corp. for about $40 billion and sold an additional chunk of SoftBank Corp. for more than $10 billion.
In a conference call in August, Son said that the COVID-19 fallout had persuaded him to pull back. SoftBank would cash in some of its holdings to prepare for a prolonged downturn or new opportunities.
“Defense is something that’s always necessary to fight and always a very important element of the fighting,” Son said at the time. “Cash is actually the defense for us.”
Son has agreed to sell far more in assets than he originally outlined, fueling speculation he is gearing up for a big deal. He has considered taking SoftBank private off and on for years, although such a buyout would be far larger than any previous effort.
SoftBank has used the capital to trade billions of dollars in stock options, a controversial move that briefly hurt its shares. The company is also planning its first special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.
Son said he is repositioning SoftBank as an investment company, de-emphasizing the operations of telecom and tech companies as he has done in the past.
“SoftBank is getting a huge amount of cash through the asset sales,” said Fujiwara. “They will outline a new growth strategy in near future.”
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