SoftBank takes $9 billion hit from Uber, WeWork, other investments

Some of Masayoshi Son’s biggest tech bets are leading to multibillion dollar losses.

SoftBank on Wednesday reported an operating loss for the most recent quarter of 970.3 billion yen ($8.9 billion) on its mega tech funds including the Vision Fund, which holds investments in Uber, WeWork, Slack and other major startups.

The losses wiped out what would have otherwise been a profitable quarter for SoftBank. The group reported losses of 704 billion yen ($6.5 billion) for the three months that ended in September, far worse than the 48.1 billion yen ($442 million) analysts polled by data provider Refinitiv had expected.

SoftBank had reported operating profits of 706 billion yen ($6.5 billion) for the same period a year earlier.

In the July to September quarter, shares in Uber fell 34%. The ride-hailing company had pared back some of those losses since then, but fell to new lows on Tuesday after the company reported steep losses for the third quarter.

Office messaging platform Slack, precision cancer medicine company Guardant Health and several other publicly traded companies in the Vision Fund portfolio also saw their stock values decline last quarter.

SoftBank stock closed up nearly 0.7% Wednesday before earnings were announced, after trading between slight gains and losses. Shares are up about 18% this year. By comparison, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite, is up 27% this year.

Drawing a line under the WeWork fiasco

Wednesday’s earnings report also comes on the heels of WeWork’s botched IPO attempt.

SoftBank rescued the struggling startup last month with a roughly $10 billion injection of cash, taking majority control of the company. That bailout was announced after the most recent financial quarter ended, however.

The bailout raised concerns about how much faith — and money — Son places in charismatic founders like WeWork’s Adam Neumann. Neumann stepped down from the company’s board and left his role as CEO, after investors balked at WeWork’s lofty valuation and criticized the company’s governance.

Brokerage firm Jefferies downgraded SoftBank from buy to hold last month, and called on the Japanese firm to clarify its investment strategy.

The rescue of WeWork sets a bad precedent of “throwing good money after bad,” Jefferies analyst Atul Goyal wrote. It “has shown us that zero is not a valuation floor for any [SoftBank] asset holding,” he said.

Before the bailout, the Vision Fund and SoftBank had already invested nearly $11 billion into WeWork. When SoftBank participated in a funding round back in January, the startup was valued at $47 billion.

SoftBank’s rescue package valued WeWork at about $8 billion — less than half the total amount of money SoftBank and the Vision Fund have poured into the company.