By Sam Nussey
TOKYO (Reuters) – SoftBank Group Corp broke with tradition on Tuesday and declined to disclose operating profit in its quarterly results, saying the measure was “not useful” to gauge performance, and instead pointed to a $2.8 billion gain at its Vision Fund.
Chief Executive Masayoshi Son has long emphasized the total value of assets as his preferred yardstick. By jettisoning operating profit, however, SoftBank could further stoke investor complaints about a firm long seen as opaque and hard to value.
SoftBank, which plunged to a record operating loss last year following writedowns at the Vision Fund, trumpeted a 297 billion yen ($2.80 billion) investment gain in April-June driven by the sell-down of assets and upwards revaluation of its portfolio.
The cheer was contained, however, as Son – known for unflagging optimism – cast business in the COVID-19 era in martial terms and said SoftBank was taking a defensive tack.
“Every day is like a war,” he told an earnings briefing. “Cash is the defense for us.”
Underscoring the new conservatism, Son said he and SoftBank are placing $555 million in a unit investing in liquid stocks such as Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc – a break from his recent emphasis on betting big on fast-growing unlisted start-ups.
Analysts had expected SoftBank to report a first-quarter operating profit, after booking three consecutive quarters of loss. Instead, SoftBank omitted the figure, rejecting it as a measure of the performance of an investment firm.
It reported a 12% rise in April-June net profit at 1.3 trillion yen and said the value of assets had risen since March.
The Japanese conglomerate provides little detail on how it calculates valuations. For April-June gains, it pointed to sectors including e-commerce and food delivery growing during the coronavirus outbreak.
SoftBank is benefiting from a global rally in technology stocks and demand for listings, with portfolio firm Lemonade Inc making its debut in July and BigCommerce Holdings Inc’s shares popping on launch last week.
Son said he is looking at options for chip designer Arm including a partial or total sale and relisting. Arm has turned money-losing under his watch, with losses deepening in the April-June quarter.
SoftBank said the Vision Fund trimmed stakes in four listed portfolio companies in April-June and exited three unlisted companies. It did not identify the companies.
Its stakes in nine public companies, including the recently listed Relay Therapeutics Inc, are worth $14.6 billion, compared with their $9.9 billion acquisition cost.
Even so, at the end of June, Vision Fund’s $75.2 billion investment in 86 startups was worth $71.5 billion.
SoftBank also recorded gains on the sell-down of assets such as wireless carrier T-Mobile US Inc following its merger with peer Sprint.
The firm has raised 4.3 trillion yen through asset sales, meeting 95% of its target. It has been using the proceeds for a massive share buy-back plan which has helped its share price rise 140% from its March lows.
The stock ended Tuesday down 2.5% ahead of the earnings announcement, versus a 1.9% rise in the benchmark Nikkei index.
($1 = 106.1400 yen)
Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Christopher Cushing and David Dolan.