EARLIER THIS year the covid-19 pandemic brought SoftBank Group to its knees. As bondholders fled heavily indebted firms, the junk-rated Japanese tech conglomerate looked shaky. In March its flamboyant boss, Son Masayoshi, announced a $41bn sale of assets to return to stability.
Mr Son has since regained his footing—or at least his chutzpah—enumerating the upsides of coronavirus lockdowns for his firm. The “new normal”, in which meetings, food delivery, education, medical care, shopping and entertainment are mediated online, he said in September, is a boon to SoftBank. He has long invested around a grand vision of a digital transformation and ubiquitous artificial intelligence (AI). Covid-19 means it is coming to pass much more rapidly than expected. Having mostly dumped its telecoms activities outside Japan, SoftBank is wholly devoted to Mr Son’s technophilic passions.
The digital surge is helping the group’s underperforming Vision Fund, a $99bn tech-investing vehicle. The fund started deploying capital in 2017 in a cloud of hype and optimism but lost its way as a result of a few spectacular failures, most notably the implosion of WeWork, an office-subleasing firm masquerading as a tech platform.
Even though SoftBank contributed only $28bn of the Vision Fund’s capital (equal to around 12% of the Japanese firm’s...
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