Moody’s Revises Up SoftBank Outlook To Stable After Arm IPO

Moody’s Investors Service said it revised up the credit ratings firm’s outlook on SoftBank Group Corp. to stable from negative on a reduction in its leveraged debt levels as well as better transparency in its investment portfolio after the listing of chip unit Arm Holdings Plc.

A SoftBank store in Tokyo.
A SoftBank store in Tokyo.

Moody’s Investors Service revised up its outlook on SoftBank Group Corp. to stable from negative, saying the listing of chip unit Arm Holdings Plc brings transparency to a bigger chunk of the tech investor’s portfolio, which includes hundreds of startups.

Rising interest rates make it imperative for the Japanese firm to avoid a deeper ratings slip into junk territory, with former banker and Chief Financial Officer Yoshimitsu Goto publicly protesting downward revisions by agencies in the past.

Credit ratings firms have cited SoftBank’s exposure to private market valuations as an ongoing risk. SoftBank’s portfolio, which includes bets of billions of dollars in bankrupt WeWork Inc. and hundreds of unprofitable and unlisted startups, remains opaque, with pricing often determined by a handful of private equity firms.

But Arm’s September initial public offering lifts the proportion of SoftBank’s listed assets, Moody’s said in a report Monday. Along with telecom unit SoftBank Corp. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., SoftBank’s listed assets now make up more than 60% of its total portfolio value, it said.

SoftBank, which floated a little less than 10% of Arm shares in the IPO, had ¥6.7 trillion ($45 billion) in cash and cash equivalents as of end-September. That cash pile’s prompted a flurry of new investments by SoftBank’s billionaire founder Masayoshi Son, as well as talks with OpenAI’s ousted co-founder Sam Altman about helping to fund a possible chip startup.

Altman Sought Billions For Chip Venture Before OpenAI Ouster

Moody’s said it will consider a downgrade if new investments deplete the holding company’s cash on hand so that it can no longer cover two years of scheduled debt maturities, or if the company’s total debt increases. The current so-called corporate family rating by Moody’s on SoftBank Group is Ba3.

“A significant increase in new investments into emerging startups with untested business models or speculative opportunities could add to downward pressure if they lead to an erosion in its liquidity or the asset quality of its investment portfolio,” it said. “Downgrade pressure will also arise if material legal or other contingent obligations crystallize or governance risks rise further.”

Standard & Poor’s in September also revised its outlook on SoftBank to “positive” after Arm’s IPO.

(Adds more detail from Moody’s statement, context on SoftBank)

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