Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Group Corp., reacts during a dialog session with Jack Ma, former chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., not pictured, at Tokyo Forum 2019 in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.
Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg via Getty Images
SoftBank CEO and founder Masayoshi Son said he aggressively sold assets this year to prepare for a “worst case scenario” that could take place if the world shuts down in a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks.
Son spoke virtually from Tokyo on Tuesday at The New York Times’ Dealbook Conference. He said he initially targeted about $40 billion of asset sales this year but ended up selling off about $80 billion of companies to give the company liquidity in case of a global emergency.
“In the next two or three months, any disaster could happen,” Son said. “So we’re just preparing for the worst case scenario.”
Among its largest asset sales, SoftBank sold semiconductor company ARM to Nvidia for $40 billion and about $20 billion of its stake in the new T-Mobile, which merged with Sprint earlier this year. If markets dip, SoftBank could use the money to buy undervalued assets, shore up its portfolio investments in the SoftBank Vision Fund, or buy back more stock, Son said.
While Son didn’t offer specifics on what “disaster” could be likely in the coming months, he alluded to Lehman Brothers’ 2008 collapse for how one event could be a catalyst for a broader meltdown.
“Anything can happen in this kind of situation,” Son said. “Of course, medical vaccine is coming. But who knows in the next two or three months?”
Son twice declined to comment on the prospect of taking SoftBank private — an idea The Financial Times reported earlier this year that Son has considered. With advice from activist shareholder Elliott Management, SoftBank has aggressively bought back stock to take advantage of a market discount relative to the value of SoftBank’s many underlying assets. SoftBank’s Vision Fund owns stakes in more than 80 different technology companies.
If Son were to aggressively buy back even more stock, he could effectively make a take-private much easier as he increased his stake in outstanding shares.
Son also said he thought it was “sad” that the Trump administration has threated to shut down TikTok in the U.S. over questionable national security threats. He said the largest U.S. technology companies shouldn’t be broken up just because their market valuations are large. SoftBank has invested in some of the largest U.S. technology companies in recent months.
“Just being big and powerful is not necessarily an evil thing,” Son said.