Blockbuster tech IPOs propelled SoftBank to Japan’s highest-ever annual profit

May 12, 2021, 11:09 AM UTC

Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Group has reaped $45.8 billion net income for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021, the highest of any Japanese company—ever. Its fourth quarter alone saw $17.7 billion in profit. The annual sum, fueled by a global tech rally, represents a spectacular rebound from its record $8.8 billion loss in the previous year that was compounded by investment hits from the pandemic and holdings in the troubled WeWork. 

The comeback for the Japanese venture capital player, whose portfolio includes a star-studded roster of global tech startups, is remarkable considering it was “being mocked for its overconfidence in WeWork” not long ago, says Peter Milliken, Asia-Pacific head of company research at Deutsche Bank.

The group staged its turnaround via profits from its Vision Fund investment arm. “The technology sector…has been positively impacted by the accelerated adoption of digital services to address the pandemic,” noted the company in an official statement. SoftBank’s IPO pipeline is stocked with tech unicorns, but matching the past year’s blockbuster results will depend on investors remaining as enthusiastic about tech stocks as they were in the past 12 months. 

Son, who is the founder, president, and CEO of SoftBank, regards the company as a goose that lays “golden eggs”—the latter being the companies it supports. 

And in recent months those golden eggs have started to hatch. Most recently, SoftBank’s Vision Fund 1 investment in Coupang contributed roughly $24 billion to its fourth-quarter profit. The South Korean e-commerce player debuted on the New York Stock Exchange in March and raised $4.6 billion. SoftBank initially paid $3 billion for a 37% stake. DoorDash’s December 2020 NYSE IPO was another jackpot for SoftBank, boosting its profits by an additional $6.07 billion. 

And the company wants to continue capitalizing on the IPO pipeline while it’s hot.

“The hardest strategy to stray from is the one that is working—and so we expect SoftBank will keep hunting for and growing disruptive businesses, and then recycling that capital, for as long as they can,” says Milliken.

The IPOs in SoftBank’s pipeline are some of the world’s most anticipated: China’s ByteDance and Didi Chuxing, Singapore’s Grab, Indonesia’s Tokopedia, and India’s Paytm and PolicyBazaar.

Navneet Govil, CFO of Vision Fund, told Reuters that such firms are “sizable investments with significant value to be unlocked.” He added that the firm has raised its capital commitment in Vision Fund 2 by $20 billion—to a total of $30 billion—indicating bullishness for upcoming investment opportunities. 

But even the company acknowledged potential bumps ahead. In a statement released alongside its annual earnings, it said that “there is no guarantee that the current positive impact will be sustained in light of uncertainties associated with the pandemic.”

Milliken said that when the IPO pipeline comes to an end—if and when investors grow fatigued and no longer wait eagerly with checkbooks in hand—SoftBank will “need to show that its investee companies’ products are gaining traction with customers and the accountants. A year can be a long time—as we now all know—and that is especially so at SoftBank.”

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