SoftBank Group Corp., the biggest shareholder in Coupang Inc., stands to reap an enormous windfall when the South Korean e-commerce leader goes public this week, giving founder Masayoshi Son further evidence his often-criticized startup bets are paying off.
The Japanese company owns about 35% of the startup and could report an unrealized gain of as much as $16 billion after Coupang raised the target price range for its initial public offering. That would be the SoftBank Vision Fund’s largest-ever startup profit booked in a single quarter since it began reporting results in 2017.
Son has come under heavy criticism for missteps in backing fledgling companies, including WeWork and more recently Greensill Capital. But the South Korean startup adds to a string of hits that have compensated for those losses and pushed his Vision Fund to profit records in the last two quarters. If Coupang succeeds in its public debut, SoftBank’s windfall could exceed the $11 billion it reported from DoorDash Inc.’s December IPO.
“This is a decent-size win for Masa and, in some way, it validates his style of going all in to score big,” said Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners in Singapore. “Their backing of Greensill seems like a rounding error by comparison.”
Coupang and its bankers raised the price range of the offering Tuesday, signaling strong demand for the shares. The Seoul-based startup is now seeking to raise $4.08 billion and is offering 120 million shares at $32 to $34 each. At the high end of that range, the company would be valued at roughly $58 billion.
The listing would be one of the biggest on record by an Asian company on a U.S. exchange and the largest since the $25 billion IPO by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. in 2014, Son’s biggest success to date.
“Coupang is not likely to be just another quick-money exit for SoftBank,” said Anthea Lai, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “Given its position in the South Korean market and how well it sits in SoftBank’s overall portfolio, it’s an investment they could hold on to for a while.”
Chief Executive Officer Bom Kim, a Harvard University dropout, founded Coupang in 2010 and has since grown the company into Korea’s version of Amazon.com Inc. The loss-making company has aggressively expanded its delivery and logistics operations, putting 70% of the country’s population within a 7-mile radius of its distribution centers, according to the filing. Coupang has also invested in new business lines like food delivery and streaming services.
In November 2018, the Vision Fund invested $2 billion in the company in a deal that valued Coupang at $9 billion, people familiar with the matter said at the time. That funding followed $1 billion from SoftBank itself in 2015, valuing the startup at about $5 billion.
A global rally in technology shares boosted the Vision Fund to a record ¥844.1 billion profit in the December quarter, raising the value of its holdings in the likes of Uber Technologies Inc. and paving the way for IPOs from the likes of Coupang. More recently, tech and online services have waned in popularity as a global vaccine distribution drive has raised expectations of a recovery and reduced reliance on remote work and entertainment offerings.
Son has said SoftBank may see between 10 to 20 public listings a year from its portfolio of 164 startups across three different funds. Even WeWork, an investment which lost more than 90% for SoftBank, has received interest from special purpose acquisition companies, the company chief told investors in December.
“During the worst of the WeWork fallout, people have been somewhat unfair to the company by focusing too much on the failures,” Bloomberg Intelligence’s Lai said. “The Vision Fund may never be a superstar, but some of its bets turned out pretty good. The question is whether it can continue delivering outsized profits quarter after quarter, especially given the recent cooling in the markets.”
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