SoftBank’s cash has poured out — it’s starting to come back

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Since SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son launched his $100bn Vision Fund in 2017, the business world has been fixated on the outflows: billions have gone to companies that range from Grab, the Singaporean car-hailing service, to WeWork, the US shared office provider.

The critical view of Mr Son as an opportunistic and even whimsical investor was given fresh ammunition last week with the revelations that he had lost $130m of his personal fortune on a bitcoin investment and poured €900m of SoftBank funds into Wirecard, the German payments group fighting an accounting scandal.

But the money is now also starting to flow the other way. Armed with cash from the $23.5bn listing of SoftBank’s mobile unit and Japan’s largest-ever corporate bond sale to retail investors, and with Uber’s blockbuster IPO around the corner, Mr Son is finally starting to dispel the notion that his Japanese technology conglomerate is risk-addicted and debt-laden. So flush is Mr Son feeling that he launched a $5.5bn share buyback in February.

“Until now, SoftBank was viewed as a group loaded with debt and doing dangerous things,” Mr Son said in February. “In time, all that noise will go away.”

Mr Son has consistently complained that investors do not appreciate the group’s true worth. In February, when its market capitalisation was ¥9tn ($80bn), he argued that SoftBank shares were undervalued by nearly 60 per cent. His calculations put the company’s net debt at ¥3.6tn and its trove of equity holdings including Alibaba, WeWork and Uber at ¥25tn, implying ¥21tn of value for shareholders.

Now, more investors are beginning to buy into his view.

Since the public offering on December 19 of stock in its mobile subsidiary, SoftBank Group shares have risen 41 per cent to a 19-year high.

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