SoftBank Group Corp. is preparing to take at least six more of its portfolio companies public this year, building on a 2020 turnaround that pushed the value of Masayoshi Son’s technology conglomerate to the highest since the dot-com boom.
Among the startups heading for initial public offerings are South Korean e-commerce pioneer Coupang Corp., Indonesian online mall operator PT Tokopedia and China’s ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing, according to people familiar with the matter, asking not to be named because the matter is private.
The IPOs could give Son another round of enormous gains after successful offerings from DoorDash Inc. and KE Holdings Inc. in 2020.
Son started last year under a cloud after the meltdown at WeWork, then saw his shares plunge with the coronavirus pandemic and a loss of almost $18 billion at SoftBank’s Vision Fund. But the Japanese billionaire, long reluctant to cash out of investments like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., embarked on an uncharacteristic sales blitz, raising more than $50 billion by shedding stakes in Alibaba, T-Mobile US Inc. and its domestic wireless affiliate, SoftBank Corp. He used the cash to buy back his own shares, pushing SoftBank Group’s stock to the highest level since 2000.
If demand for IPOs continues to be robust, it would improve the prospects for the remaining 100 or so startups in SoftBank’s portfolio. That would give Son more liquid assets to keep funding buybacks — or perhaps take his company private.
“That old concern about them not being willing to monetize assets is largely in the past,” said Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners in Singapore. “Son has successfully shed the WeWork stigma and no one talks about that anymore. The story is now about further investment exits and prospects for privatization.”
Even for a man whose career has been filled with epic success and failure, Son’s 2020 was unusually dramatic. In the span of a few months, SoftBank lost half its value in a pandemic-driven rout, reported the largest loss in its history and then recovered to record profits and a surging valuation.
Son was rescued, at least in part, by the speculative frenzy sweeping global markets. Energized by the fervor, Japan’s most famous financier agreed to sell chip designer Arm in the largest deal of his career, tried his hand at trading stock options and flirted with taking his company private.
Now, the Vision Fund is on track to report its second quarter of record profits and SoftBank is raising $525 million through a blank-check company.
The outbreak has had an uneven impact on Son’s startups. With many people sheltering at home, SoftBank took large writedowns on the value of office-sharing giant WeWork and hotel-booking service Oyo Hotels & Homes. At the same time, e-commerce and food-delivery companies have seen their prospects brighten.
SoftBank also owns a stake in ByteDance Ltd., the enormously successful Chinese parent of the video app TikTok. SoftBank invested $2.5 billion at a $75 billion pre-money valuation, according to the person. The Beijing-based company is in talks to raise money at a $180 billion valuation before listing some of its businesses in Hong Kong, Bloomberg News has reported.
Perhaps most significant would be Didi. Son has been the largest investor in ride-hailing companies, pouring over $20 billion into Uber Technologies Inc., Didi, Southeast Asia’s Grab and India’s Ola. Uber went public in 2019, but its rocky debut dampened demand for similar stocks.
Uber shares jumped 71% last year however, suggesting the markets are once again open to such money-losing startups. The Chinese ride-hailing giant is already considering a listing in the U.S. in the second half of this year, the people familiar said. SoftBank owns about 20% of the company after investing over $10 billion, making it the single-biggest investment in the Vision Fund’s portfolio.
Other SoftBank companies that have reportedly begun preparations for IPOs include the U.S. real estate brokerage Compass, India’s online grocery Grofers and SenseTime Group Ltd., China’s largest artificial intelligence company.
Several SoftBank-backed companies have already pulled off solid debuts. Online home-insurance provider Lemonade Inc. quadrupled since its July IPO, while oncology drug developer Relay Therapeutics Inc. has surged about 90% since its trading debut. The August listing of KE Holdings, a Chinese online property platform, added $5.1 billion in paper gains to Vision Fund’s profit in the quarter ended in September. Last month’s market debut of DoorDash Inc., a food-delivery company where SoftBank holds a 20% stake, is alone likely to bring in over $10 billion profit in unrealized gains.
“A less charitable view could hold that Son’s past mistakes were most of his own making, but the recent successes are in the large part the market giving Son a salvation,” said Atul Goyal, senior analyst at Jefferies.
Fueled by central bank stimulus and individual investors, companies announced a record $208 billion in IPOs in the U.S. last year. DoorDash’s $3.4 billion debut was the fourth-biggest, while KE Holdings was No. 7 with $2.4 billion. Special purpose acquisition companies accounted for almost half of the total.
SoftBank needs more successes as Alibaba — by far its most valuable holding — comes under scrutiny from China’s antitrust authorities. The e-commerce giant’s stock has tumbled more than 20% from its peak in October.
“There is a window of opportunity for listing and selling SoftBank portfolio companies before IPO fatigue sets in,” said Tang at United First Partners. “We are closer to the end of it than the beginning.”