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SoftBank's Stumbles Drive Investors Away From a New Mega-Fund

By Asit Sharma – Feb 7, 2020 at 4:47PM

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The Japanese tech giant may fall well short of its stated goal for a new venture fund.

Japan's SoftBank (SFTBF 2.16%) is finding slim interest among deep-pocketed investors for the sequel to its gargantuan $100 billion Vision Fund investment pool. The Wall Street Journal reports today that a new fund originally projected at $108 billion may end up raising less than half the targeted amount, with most of the capital contributed by SoftBank itself.

The Journal reports that Vision Fund's two biggest investors, Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Abu Dhabi's state-controlled Mubadala Investment Co., have balked at bankrolling the new fund. Adding complexity to the situation, activist investor Elliott Management Corp. is arguing for SoftBank's management to allocate excess cash to share repurchases to boost the company's lagging stock price. The hedge fund has a particularly loud megaphone given its $2.5 billion equity interest in SoftBank.

Venture capital concept: Illustration of a hand extending a dollar coin over a hand holding a light bulb.

Image source: Getty Images.

An unsurprising show of cold feet?

Observers in the venture capital world may have seen the potential funding shortfall coming. SoftBank's CEO Masayoshi Son brought his intuitive and visionary style to Vision Fund, and concentrated outsized bets in a number of rising start-ups. However, the very public unraveling of WeWork's IPO in late 2019 is indicative of a wider phenomenon in Vision Fund's portfolio: Many of its investments are struggling to generate profits and positive cash flow.

The Journal reports that key SoftBank executives believe that the company should slow down its approach, concentrating on one-off investments, or perhaps launching a more modestly sized hedge fund. Such a change in direction may clash with Mr. Son's penchant for intuitive, mammoth investments in promising start-ups. One takeaway appears certain: SoftBank will have less firepower to concentrate on Mr. Son's next round of favored technology disruptors.

Asit Sharma has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Softbank Group. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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