Wed, Sep 11, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Softbank urges WeWork to shelve IPO over valuation

Reuters, TOKYO

Softbank Group Corp, a leading shareholder in the holding company of US office-sharing start-up WeWork, has urged it to shelve a planned initial public offering (IPO) on concerns over the valuation, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

A Softbank spokeswoman declined to comment on the report, which cited sources familiar with the matter.

Investor skepticism has already forced money-losing The We Company to consider slashing its IPO valuation to a little more than US$20 billion, sources said last week.

That followed weak initial trading at other start-ups, including Softbank-backed Uber Technologies Inc.

While Softbank and its US$100 billion Vision Fund emphasize their long-term investing credentials, founder and CEO Masayoshi Son has set out an ambitious IPO pipeline for tech investments spanning ride-hailing, fintech and health start-ups.

Putting The We Company’s offering on hold would disrupt that schedule at a time when Softbank is seeking funds from investors for a second Vision Fund.

Softbank made a followup investment in We Company, one of its biggest tech bets, at a US$47 billion valuation earlier this year — a number widely treated with skepticism by analysts.

Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Chris Lane said that if The We Company halts the IPO, Softbank could come up with an alternative funding plan for the start-up, which he estimates needs US$9 billion in funding to become cash-flow positive.

Tech conglomerate Softbank has burned through much of the US$100 billion raised by its first Vision Fund in just two years, recording big paper gains on internal revaluations of its tech investments.

At the end of June the fund recorded the value of US$71 billion invested in 83 investments as having grown by US$20 billion. Since then the share price of portfolio companies Uber and Slack Technologies Inc have both fallen by about one-third.

Softbank said that many investments receive a vote of confidence as third parties come in as coinvestors or by making follow-on investments at the same or higher valuations.

In the case of The We Company’s US$47 billion valuation, if a tech company shelves an IPO due to a lower valuation than expected, investors are generally expected to take that fall into account when appraising their stakes.

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