Softbank shares down as mobile unit makes Tokyo debut

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The mobile unit of Japanese tech giant Softbank has had a disappointing debut on the Tokyo stock market.

The firm raised as much as 2.6 trillion yen ($23bn; £18bn) by selling shares at 1,500 yen each in one of the world’s largest ever stock offerings.

But as markets opened in Tokyo on Wednesday, shares were trading down at 1,463 yen.

Originally a telecoms firm, Softbank has become a vast conglomerate covering robotics, chips and investments.

The firm was founded by Japan’s richest man Masayoshi Son.

By the close of morning trade on Wednesday, Softbank Corp’s shares were down 10.6%.

What does this sale mean for Softbank?

While you could already buy shares in Softbank itself, its telecommunications unit, called Softbank Corp, is now also available for public purchase.

The firm’s initial public offering (IPO) – a way for a company to raise new capital – was seen as cementing Softbanks’ move from a domestic telecommunication provider to a global tech investor.

It was expected to be one of the biggest-ever offerings of shares on any stock market.

Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba IPOed for a record $25bn IPO in 2014. In comparison, Facebook only raised $16bn when it went public in 2012.

The disappointing trading debut was expected by some analysts.

But David Kuo, a market analyst in Singapore, told the BBC that the stock price should pick up once investors understand better how to value Softbank’s telecoms arm.

“As an entrepreneur, Masayoshi Son had the freedom to invest as he wished,” Mr Kuo said.

“But the [newly listed arm] now has to play by the harsh rules of the market. It will be valued on revenues, profit and cash flow.”

What is Softbank?

Softbank started as a telecoms company but has spread out through many deals and investments.

The firm has moved into robotics, bought UK chip firm ARM Holdings and invested in satellite start-up OneWeb and ride-sharing firms, as well as in self-driving technology with Toyota.

It also acquired Vodafone’s Japanese operations and the US telecoms company Sprint.

The firm set up a venture fund with Saudi Arabia, which focuses on emerging technology and has around $90bn at its disposal.

Saudia Arabia is the fund’s major investor and other backers include Apple and Foxconn.

But Softbank has come under criticism for co-operation in light of the recent death of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Company chief Masayoshi Son condemned the Khashoggi murder, but said Softbank must continue to work with Riyadh.

Who is Masayoshi Son?

Mr Son founded Softbank and has guided it to become one of the world’s biggest technology companies.

The entrepreneur – Japan’s richest man according to Forbes Magazine – is known for having an eye for firms with big potential and for spotting transformative industries and trends.

He saw the potential in e-commerce before many others and was an early investor in Alibaba.

Often described as the Steve Jobs or Bill Gates of the Japanese business world, he’s seen as someone quite different from country’s more conservative corporate culture.

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