(Bloomberg) — SoftBank Group Corp., facing skepticism of its investment strategy, conveyed a message to Wall Street on Monday: Now is the time to invest.
Masayoshi Son, SoftBank’s founder and chief executive officer, told a roomful of fund managers and financial institutions at a private meeting in New York that recent market declines present an opportunity to take stakes in companies at discounted valuations, according to people who attended. He also argued that SoftBank is well-positioned to pick the winners. Son highlighted Arm Holdings, whose technology is the basis of most of the world’s smartphone processors, as an effective bet for SoftBank, despite intensifying scrutiny about the British company’s losses.
For the last month, SoftBank has been trying to manage a campaign from an activist investor. Elliott Management Corp., the New York-based investment firm, amassed a stake in SoftBank worth nearly $3 billion and outlined recommendations that it says would lift the company’s share price. They include increasing oversight of SoftBank’s Vision Fund, selling stock holdings and using the proceeds to buy back SoftBank shares.
Monday’s event, hosted by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. at the Lotte New York Palace hotel, gave investors a venue to pose questions to Son, the 62-year-old Japanese billionaire. Attendees were asked to email queries to a Goldman Sachs moderator, who filtered and selected which ones to ask, according to attendees, who requested anonymity because the meeting was private. Goldman’s co-chief of investment banking, Dan Dees, was on stage with Son to ask questions. A spokeswoman for SoftBank declined to comment.
SoftBank shares rose about 2% in Tokyo trading.
Son pledged to start “listening more” to independent directors and shareholders. He said as the company’s largest shareholder, nobody wants to see the stock price rise as much as he does. The company’s market value is about $100 billion, less than half of what SoftBank has said it should be worth.
SoftBank plans to forge ahead with a scaled-down Vision Fund II, Son reiterated at the meeting. He expects 2020 and 2021 to be the “best vintage” for the Vision Fund, according to one of the people in the room. He predicted that about 15% of Vision Fund companies would go bust, while another 15% would account for 90% of profits.
Son expressed regret about overpaying for stock in WeWork, the beleaguered co-working company. But he advised the room to “expect great things” from WeWork parent We Co. in the next one to three years. Son also said SoftBank would seek to stop investing in companies that compete with one another in the same markets, as it has done in ride hailing, food delivery and other industries.
Despite these setbacks, Son said he remains convinced in his investment thesis that artificial intelligence will disrupt all industries. He said he plans to continue backing financial, medical and transportation companies, among those in other industries, that are driving what he describes as an “information revolution.”
(Updates with additional details from the fourth paragraph.)
–With assistance from Sarah McBride and Pavel Alpeyev.
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