SoftBank to Lend Employees $20B to Invest in Vision Fund

SoftBank Group plans to lend up to $20 billion to its 400 employees to buy stakes in its second Vision Fund, following the first fund launched in 2017. That first $100 billion fund, which debuted in 2017, made big investments in Uber Technologies, WeWork, and Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing Technology, driving up their valuations. For the second Vision Fund, SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son may invest as much as $15 billion, and SoftBank could put in $38 billion, more than is typical for a fund sponsor.

The Wall Street Journal reports that lending employees money to invest in a fund is unusual because “most investment funds simply give their employees a share of the profit as part of their compensation.” SoftBank, which will charge the employees 5 percent interest, did the same thing for the first fund, which now includes about $8 billion of employee money.

SoftBank, which “controls Sprint and other telecommunications companies … launched its first fund with $60 billion in backing from government investment funds from Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.”

The second Vision fund, which aims to focus on artificial intelligence, already has commitments of $108 billion “from investors including Apple, Microsoft, the government of Kazakhstan and half a dozen banks” — but WSJ notes that “those commitments aren’t binding.”

The first fund’s investments haven’t done well: Shares of Uber have fallen 30 percent since its IPO, and now trade at “below the roughly $35 level that SoftBank paid to acquire its stake.” WeWork, which filed to go public last week, reported “losses that are enormous and growing fast, even by Silicon Valley standards.” Although WeWork was recently valued at $47 billion, one analyst called that “very hard to swallow.”

Should Vision Fund’s risky investments put it on insecure footing, SoftBank could be “in an awkward position trying to collect from some of its most senior executives and could ultimately lose money.” The stakes, which have to be explained to shareholders, “could be considered compensation, which companies must disclose annually for executives at the level of Son and Vision Fund chief executive Rajeev Misra.”

The government of Kazakhstan will “likely to contribute about $3 billion,” and investing banks include Goldman Sachs Group, Standard Chartered and Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. SoftBank is also “negotiating with several pensions and insurers, including in Taiwan, for combined investments it hopes will exceed $30 billion.”