‘I am quite embarrassed and remorseful’: SoftBank CEO plans widespread cost cuts as tech investments suffer, leading to a $23 billion loss
Japanese conglomerate and tech investing powerhouse SoftBank revealed on Monday that it lost $23 billion between April and June, the most significant quarterly loss in the company’s history.
CEO Masayoshi Son’s multibillion-dollar investment spree over the past few years has turned into a nightmare for SoftBank in 2022 as rising interest rates and recession fears decimated tech shares and venture capital investments.
“When we were turning out big profits, I became somewhat delirious, and looking back at myself now, I am quite embarrassed and remorseful,” the CEO admitted at a press conference on Monday.
Son added that he will be making big changes at the company’s tech-focused venture capital funds, called Vision Funds, over the coming months, looking to be “more selective in making investments,” because “the market and the world is in confusion.”
His comments echo similar statements made in May, when the company said it planned to go into “defense” mode after posting a record $26 billion loss in its investment unit last fiscal year.
Vision Funds have backed over 470 startups globally in the past six years, but SoftBank approved just $600 million in investments for the funds in the April-June quarter, a 97% decline in spending from the same quarter last year.
Son also noted that he is planning to “cost cuts with no sacred cows” in the current quarter, and excess staff may be the first to go.
“I have no choice but to cut a significant number of employees at the Vision Fund,” he said.
SoftBank was also forced to sell $10.5 billion of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s stock to raise cash in the April-June quarter, and dumped an additional $6.8 billion in shares after the quarter ended.
While other investors, including Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, have been buying during the dip in equities recently, Son argued rising risks have him second-guessing further investments.
“Now seems like the perfect time to invest when the stock market is down so much, and I have the urge to do so, but if I act on it, we could suffer a blow that would be irreversible, and that is unacceptable,” he said.
SoftBank saw its losses from stock market investments pile up during the April-June quarter. The Vision Fund alone saw $2.18 billion in losses from its stake in the South Korean e-commerce leader Coupang, which is down 33% year to date, and $1.64 billion in losses from DoorDash, which has dropped 46% since January.
But it’s the Vision Funds’ early-stage investments that are seeing the worst results amid an ongoing venture capital slowdown, with startups such as the buy-now, pay-later darling Klarna losing billions in value so far this year.
Son said that valuations for early-stage companies have fallen dramatically in 2022, and he doesn’t see the situation improving anytime soon.
“Until the multiples of listed companies are lower than those of unlisted companies, we should wait [to invest],” he said, adding that the downturn for publicly listed companies is continuing, but for startups, the pain may last even longer.
The less-than-stellar earnings results come just a month after Rajeev Misra, who effectively ran SoftBank’s first Vision Fund, announced he will be stepping down from some key responsibilities at Vision Fund 2 to launch his own fund.
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