SoftBank is said to consider bid for TikTok in India

FILE PHOTO: Japan's SoftBank Group Corp Chief Executive Masayoshi Son bows his head after his presentation at a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

SoftBank Group Corp. is exploring assembling a group of bidders for TikTok’s India assets and has been actively looking for local partners, according to people familiar with the matter.

Over the past month, the Japanese conglomerate, which owns a stake in TikTok’s Chinese parent ByteDance Ltd., has held talks with the heads of India’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. and Bharti Airtel Ltd., the people said, asking not to be identified because the details are private. While discussions have fizzled since, SoftBank is still exploring options, according to the people.

Representatives for SoftBank, ByteDance, Reliance and Bharti Airtel declined to comment.

TikTok is considering selling its operations in several countries after local governments shut out the app, citing fears that sensitive user data was passing into the hands of the Chinese state. India, a long-time regional rival, has taken a particularly tough stance, banning 59 of China’s largest internet services in July, including TikTok. The move came less than a month after 20 Indian soldiers died in border clashes amid heightening nationalism stoked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

SoftBank would almost certainly need a local partner to cut a deal that would win government approval.  Before the ban, India was one of TikTok’s largest markets, with more than 200 million users.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok and then ordered ByteDance to sell its assets in the country because of national security concerns.

Despite holding only a minor stake in ByteDance, SoftBank has played a particularly active role in negotiations. In the U.S.,  the Japanese company brought in Walmart Inc. as the main investor in a group of bidders that also included Google parent Alphabet Inc. But the consortium fell apart after the Trump administration insisted a U.S. tech company lead the investments, one of the people said. Google said it is no longer interested, while Walmart joined a bid led by Microsoft Corp. It’s unclear which group SoftBank is currently working with in the country.

Centricus Asset Management Ltd., which is also a frequent adviser to SoftBank, teamed up with Triller Inc. in a bid for TikTok’s operations in the U.S. and several other countries for $20 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter.

SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son has a long history of investing in India and a deep network of local business connections. Local startups backed by Son include e-commerce provider Snapdeal.com, ride-hailing service Ola Cabs and hotel-booking app Oyo Rooms. In December, SoftBank poured $275 million into eye-care provider Lenskart, minting India’s latest unicorn.  The company is also part of a solar power joint venture with Bharti Enterprises Pvt. and Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Co. Son helped pave the way for Walmart’s entry into the country by selling its stake in Flipkart Online Services Pvt Ltd. in 2018.

Son has been on a $42 billion asset selling spree, offloading stakes in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., T-Mobile US Inc. and SoftBank’s domestic telecom unit, SoftBank Corp. Son is also looking to sell or list Arm Ltd., the chip design firm that he bought four years ago for $32 billion.

Bloomberg

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In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

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  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.