SoftBank’s big bet on sharing economy backfires with coronavirus
Japan Times -- Mar 30
Masayoshi Son has been among the most fervent believers in the sharing economy, investing billions in startups that help people split the use of cars, rooms and offices.

But as the coronavirus curtails unnecessary human interaction, it’s hammering such businesses and rattling the foundations of Son’s SoftBank Group Corp.

In New York City, the co-working space of SoftBank-backed WeWork stands practically empty as tenants stay home over fears of infection. In Shanghai, drivers for the ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing have seen their pay plummet as customers avoid shared automobiles.

In San Francisco, Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., another SoftBank investment, said “I wouldn’t put my kids in an Uber.”

Investors are increasingly spooked about the stability of Son’s empire and its $100 billion Vision Fund amid the pandemic. Before last week, SoftBank shares had tumbled about 50 percent in a single month, including their worst one-day decline since the Japanese billionaire listed his company in 1994. In response, the SoftBank impresario launched one of the most audacious deals of his career: sell part of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and other assets to raise $41 billion (about ¥4.42 trillion) to buy back shares and slash debt.

While that envisioned deal put a floor under the share price, it hasn’t changed the fundamental vulnerability of an edifice built on sharing-economy standouts that have been walloped since sheltering in place became the norm. SoftBank gained more than 40 percent since Son revealed that blueprint, which is said to include unloading $14 billion of Alibaba stock for starters. But it remains down about 30 percent from a February peak. In fact, Moody’s Corp. questioned the wisdom of selling prized assets into a market downturn and pushed SoftBank’s debt deeper into junk territory. SoftBank fired back by accusing Moody’s of bias.

News source: Japan Times
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