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SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son warns coronavirus could bankrupt 15 Vision Fund-backed unicorns

The Japanese conglomerate said its SoftBank Vision Fund has suffered a loss of USD 18 billion due to COVID-19.

mage source: Tuchong FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2014 file photo, SoftBank founder and Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son speaks during a news conference in Tokyo. Japanese Internet company SoftBank Group Corp., which is struggling to turn around Sprint in the U.S., is reporting a 27 percent drop in profit for the fiscal year ended March 31, compared to the previous year. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File) mage source: Tuchong.

At a time when majority of SoftBank Vision Fund’s portfolio companies have been brought down on their knees by the worst global healthcare crisis ever, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, during the earnings presentation on Monday warned that 15 unicorns out of its 88  portfolio companies could go bankrupt.

SoftBank Group reported an operating loss of USD 13 billion and a net loss of USD 8.9 billion for the financial year ended March 31–the biggest ever losses since its listing in 1994.

The Japanese conglomerate’s sky-high losses were primarily due to its iconic Vision Fund which suffered a whopping loss of almost USD 18 billion, caused by the bad performance of unicorns such as Uber and WeWork. One of its star portfolio companies, WeWork alone caused it a loss of USD 10 billion.

Son, while announcing the earnings said, the coronavirus is an unprecedented crisis and that some of his tech unicorns had fallen “into the valley of the coronavirus.”

“I believe some of them will fly over the valley,” he said. However, Son added, for “the 15 risky companies, we will not provide financial support to rescue them.”

The SoftBank Vision fund made USD 75 billion investment in 88 startups that are currently worth USD 69.6 billion as on March 31. Of these 88 investments, 47 investments had been marked down in this fiscal year. Even before the crisis descended, the USD 100 billion fund had already been under pressure as it has been posting losses for the last two quarters.

To deal with the precarious situation, SoftBank is planning to raise almost 1.25 trillion yen (almost USD 12 billion) against its stake in China’s Alibaba Group. Son was one of the early investors to back Alibaba, putting in USD 20 million two decades ago.

Also read: Jack Ma leaves SoftBank board after 13 years

According to a Reuters report, the group has pledged the sale or monetization of USD 41 billion in assets, which will partly be used to finance a 2.5 trillion yen (USD 23.2 billion) buyback “to prop up its share price.” By the end of April, the report said, it had already spent 250 billion yen (USD 2.3 billion) on share purchases.

Son further said, going forward SoftBank would take a cautious approach to both future investments as well as current investments. He added that he did not want to be “too pessimistic.”

Showing his confidence in Oyo group, the Indian hospitality chain, one of its star portfolio companies, he said, “Small hotels that are struggling can join Oyo Group and take advantage of their technology to acquire customers. That will be a new need for those businesses.”

While Uber is still facing a difficult situation in the US, he said, Didi in China is seeing the recovery of the ride-sharing business.

“I hope this will be the case in other companies also,” he added.