SoftBank Group CEO Masayoshi Son attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on November 5 2018. Picture: REUTERS/KIM KYUNG-HOON
SoftBank Group CEO Masayoshi Son attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on November 5 2018. Picture: REUTERS/KIM KYUNG-HOON

Tokyo — SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son has condemned the killing of journalist Jamal Kashoggi by Saudi security personnel, and said his firm must continue to carry out its responsibility to Saudi Arabia’s citizens whose money is invested in its Vision Fund.

Saudi Arabia is the largest investor in the fund, which was launched last year with more than $90bn in capital, giving Son firepower to make big bets in late-stage startups such as shared office space provider WeWork Cos and hotel chain OYO hotels.

Global outcry over the murder case, however, has led many observers to regard that dependence as a risk to SoftBank’s plans to raise further funds.

“These funds are important to the Saudi people in ensuring their economy diversifies and is no longer dependent on oil,” Son said on Monday.

“It is true that a horrible incident happened. On the other hand, we have a responsibility towards the Saudi people, and we must carry out our responsibility rather than turn our backs on them.”

Son was presenting SoftBank’s earnings results, appearing before reporters for the first time since Khashoggi, a journalist critical of the Saudi state, was murdered early last month in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

SoftBank booked July-September operating profit of ¥705.7bn ($6.23bn), helped by higher valuations on high-tech bets. That compared with ¥395.6bn a year earlier under different accounting standards.

For now there are few signs SoftBank’s Saudi links are deterring startups from accepting Vision Fund capital, with internet-connected window company View on Friday announcing a $1.1bn investment, saying the deal will allow it to accelerate growth.

Still, worries about the Saudi fallout and a broader downturn in global technology stocks have weighed on SoftBank shares in recent weeks. They closed at ¥8,747 on Monday, down 24% percent from September's high of ¥11,500.

Phone IPO

Another recent concern has been the planned initial public offering (IPO) of SoftBank’s mobile phone network provider amid government pressure on Japan’s telecommunications industry to lower prices.

Market participants said the offering could surpass the record $25bn worth of shares sold by China’s Alibaba in New York in 2014.

The listing will mark the transformation of SoftBank from a domestic telco, which successfully challenged the country’s incumbent duopoly, into one of the world’s biggest technology investors.

While the offering is expected to draw Japan’s cash-rich retail investors attracted to SoftBank’s image as a successful tech company and the prospect of steady returns, it comes as the government pushes for lower fees.

Against that backdrop, NTT Docomo said last week it will cut service charges by as much as 40%, affecting its earnings from the next fiscal year.

Separately, competition is set to increase as e-commerce giant Rakuten enters the mobile market in a year's time with the help of a tie-up with telco KDDI.

Reuters