Embattled SoftBank renews talks on taking the group private – source

The signs of SoftBank Group Corp. and SoftBank Corp. are displayed at their new headquarters building during a press preview in Tokyo

By Anirban Sen, Joshua Franklin and Sabahatjahan Contractor

(Reuters) – SoftBank Group Corp <9984.T> executives have held early stage talks about taking the Japanese technology group private as the company seeks a new strategy after disposing of several large assets, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The discussions are driven by frustrations over the persistent discount in SoftBank’s equity valuation compared with the value of its individual holdings, which continues even after an asset sale programme tried to close that gap, the source said, requesting anonymity as the discussions are private.

The deliberations are at a very preliminary stage and SoftBank management is divided about whether or not move ahead with the deal, the source cautioned, adding it is not the first time SoftBank executives have held such discussions.

A spokeswoman for SoftBank, which is led by billionaire Masayoshi Son, declined to comment. News of the talks was first reported by the Financial Times.

Shares in SoftBank on the Tokyo Stock Exchange are down a little over 10% so far in 2020 and are trading at 1,307.50 yen. This is a steeper fall than Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index <.N225> and below the 1,500 yen price at which it sold units in its 2018 initial public offing (IPO).

The IPO, still Japan’s biggest-ever stock market listing, was widely regarded at the time as finalizing the group’s transition from domestic telecommunications company to a global tech investor.

Yet since then, SoftBank has faced a host of challenges including losses on investments made by its $100 billion Vision Fund, activist pressure from hedge fund Elliott Management and questions regarding significant option purchases during the recent run-up in the U.S. stock market.

The talks on taking SoftBank private have also come as SoftBank has shifted its business strategy to become a long-term investor in businesses rather than a manager of companies.

SoftBank’s recent investment track record has been checkered, including a large bet on shared office provider WeWork, resulting in SoftBank reporting an $18 billion loss at the Vision Fund in May, pushing the conglomerate to a record loss.

SoftBank announced on Monday it had agreed to sell British chip designer Arm to Nvidia Corp <NVDA.O> for as much as $40 billion in a cash and share deal.

It is possible the go-private talks could gain momentum following the Arm sale, the source said.

(Reporting by Anirban Sen and Sabahatjahan Contractor in Bengaluru, and Joshua Franklin in Boston; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Lincoln Feast.)