SoftBank’s Son Offers Mea Culpa After Jesus Comment Backfires
(Bloomberg) -- It seems like almost nothing is going right for Masayoshi Son these days.
SoftBank Group Corp. reported record losses on Monday after writing down the value of investments, including WeWork and Uber Technologies Inc. On a call with investors that followed, Son compared himself to another high-profile visionary who was initially misunderstood -- Jesus Christ. The billionaire also said the Beatles did not become a success overnight, according to a person on the call. He was promptly pilloried in the media.
On Tuesday, Son took to Twitter to set the record straight: “The reason for failure lies not outside, but with me. There is no moving forward without admitting that.”
SoftBank’s shares closed 2.8% down in Tokyo, even as the Japan market rose. The Japanese company posted a record operating loss of 1.36 trillion yen ($12.7 billion) in the 12 months ended March and said its Vision Fund business lost 1.9 trillion yen.
At the earnings briefing on Monday, Son said he had not anticipated how the global economy would be affected by the fallout from Covid-19. His presentation was full of dark slides that highlighted comparisons between now and the Great Depression, when it took years for economic activity to recover.
Son conceded he is unlikely to be able to draw outside investors for another fund, an initiative that he once proclaimed the future of SoftBank as it moved away from the telecom business. The Vision Fund’s return was a negative 6% as of March 31, compared with 62% just a year ago.
“Vision Fund’s results are not something to be proud of,” Son said at a press conference in Tokyo, with reporters and analysts calling in remotely because of the pandemic. “If the results are bad, you can’t raise money from investors. Things aren’t good, that’s why we are investing with our own money.”
The Tokyo-based company will keep making startup investments with its own funds, albeit more cautiously than in the past.
SoftBank shares reached their highest level in two decades in April 2019, but then plunged by the most on record this March as the coronavirus slammed the company and its startups. Now Son is racing to stabilize his company for the challenges ahead.
On Monday, SoftBank detailed plans to shore up its balance sheet and its stock price, part of a plan to sell 4.5 trillion yen in assets. The company raised $11.5 billion from contracts to sell shares in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., its most valuable holding. SoftBank is likely to sell stock in its Japanese telecom unit SoftBank Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. SoftBank Group plans to seek buyers for shares of T-Mobile US worth about $20 billion.
The Japanese company also said on Monday it plans to spend up to 500 billion yen to buy back shares through next March, on top of an existing repurchase plan of the same size.
Son, 62, is known for his eccentric financial presentations, which have included a “hypothetical illustration” of WeWork profitability and a drawing of a goose labeled, “SoftBank = Goose,” as in the one that lays golden eggs. On Monday, the earnings briefing included a slide of white horses tumbling into a pit labeled “Valley of Coronavirus” and then a single animal with a horn and wings soaring into the air.
“Our unicorns have fallen into this sudden coronavirus ravine,” Son said. “But some of them will use this crisis to grow wings.”
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