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SoftBank racks up losses as Vision Fund investments plunge

Inside Telecom Staff

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SoftBank racks up losses as Vision Fund investments plunge

>By YURI KAGEYAMA AP Business Writer

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese technology company SoftBank Group Corp. racked up a loss of 961.6 billion yen ($9 billion) for the fiscal year through March, on red ink related to its Vision Fund investments including troubled office space-sharing venture WeWork.

SoftBank, founded in 1981, said Monday the drop in share prices around the world from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic had slammed the value of its sprawling investments.

Tokyo-based SoftBank had reported a profit of 1.4 trillion yen the previous fiscal year. Its sales for the fiscal year inched up 1% to 6.2 trillion yen ($58 billion). It did not immediately break down quarterly results or give a forecast for the fiscal year through March 2021.

On top of WeWork’s poor performance, the company suffered damage to the value of Uber and other holdings in its portfolio. The pandemic is adding to uncertainties.

The merger of Sprint with T-Mobile in the U.S. was completed on April 1, in one bit of good news.

The pandemic was not expected to affect SoftBank’s telecommunications business, such as mobile phone services in Japan. As people stay home to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, they tend to use more online deliveries and other internet-based activities.

But the company’s technology licensing and royalty revenues may drop due to Arm, which provides microprocessors and other technology and is also part of SoftBank’s operations, because of pandemic-related disruptions.

SoftBank’s chief executive, Masayoshi Son, told reporters the company was facing “unprecedented challenges” because of the pandemic.

But he said some businesses such as Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and Arm hold great potential, and the stock value of SoftBank’s holdings has fallen but is not crashing.

“I realize I am giving excuses, and the extreme economic hardships from this ‘corona-shock’ are very real,” Son said.

SoftBank bailed out WeWork last year, and severed ties with its co-founder Adam Neumann, whose reported lavish living has tarnished the brand. Its IPO was ditched, and SoftBank has shelved its tender offer.

The future of the office-sharing business model itself is in question as reopening economies try to abide by social-distancing measures against the virus that causes COVID-19.

Earlier in the day, SoftBank announced Chinese billionaire Jack Ma was stepping down from the board.

Son said the move was related to Ma’s decision to semi-retire, including from his post at Alibaba. They continue to communicate regularly as “like-minded soulmates,” said Son.

“It’s sad to see him go, but we will be best friends forever,” he said.

SoftBank is a major investor in Alibaba. Ma, who joined the SoftBank board in 2007, and Son have a longstanding close relationship.

Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba, has been focusing on philanthropy lately, such as donating masks and test kits to help in the efforts against the pandemic.

SoftBank announced three new board members, including SoftBank Chief Financial Officer Yoshimitsu Goto and Waseda University professor Yuko Kawamoto.

Another new member is Lip-Bu Tan, founder of Walden International, a venture capital firm focused on computer chips, cloud and artificial intelligence. He is also chief executive of Cadence Design, a U.S. electronic design automation software and engineering services company.

Son said that adding outside board members will enhance corporate governance at SoftBank, responding to criticism he wielded too much control.

Also Monday, SoftBank said it was buying back its own shares, of up to 500 billion yen ($4.7 billion) in value, to shore up its bottom line.

“I am not totally pessimistic, given all the challenges we have faced in the past,” said Son. “We will keep at it.”

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Online review platform Trustpilot chooses London for IPO

Associated Press

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Online review platform Trustpilot chooses London for IPO

Online review platform Trustpilot said Monday it plans to sell shares in London, in a stock offering that helps shore up the city’s status as a financial hub and destination for tech companies after Brexit.

Trustpilot, which is based in Copenhagen, Denmark, said it will hold an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange to sell 25% of its shares to raise $50 million.

While not yet profitable, Trustpilot’s net loss narrowed last year as its revenue rose to $102 million. It’s aiming for a market valuation of 1 billion pounds ($1.4 billion), according to a person close to the company who was not allowed to speak publicly.

People can use Trustpilot to publicly leave feedback for businesses. One of Trustpilot’s selling points is that it doesn’t allow businesses to pick and choose which reviews are published on, or deleted from its platform, as a way to raise trust and transparency.

The company also uses technology to weed out shady posts. Last year it took down 2.2 million reviews deemed to be fake or fraudulent, 70% of which were removed by automated systems.

Trusptilot is going public as a boom in online transactions due to the coronavirus pandemic is driving demand for reviews. The company said in its registration document that COVID-19 has resulted in more web domains carrying Trustpilot reviews as well as more consumer reviews on its platform, though it came at the expense of other businesses hit by the pandemic through store closures, travel restrictions, and social distancing.

The company, which was founded in 2007, says it has hosted more than 120 million reviews for more than 529,000 websites belonging to businesses in more than 100 country and territories. Its biggest markets are the U.K. and U.S.

LONDON (AP) — By KELVIN CHAN

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Senate vetting Biden’s choice for SEC head amid stock drama

Associated Press

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Senate vetting Biden's choice for SEC head amid stock drama

President Joe Biden’s choice to head the Securities and Exchange Commission is coming before a Senate panel for his confirmation hearing at a moment when a roiling stock-trading drama has spurred clamor for tighter regulation of Wall Street.

Gary Gensler, a chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission during the Obama administration, has experience as a tough markets regulator during the financial crisis. More recently he has been in the academic world. Biden’s selection of Gensler to lead the SEC signals a goal of turning the Wall Street watchdog agency toward an activist role after a deregulatory stretch during the Trump administration.

The Senate Banking Committee is weighing Gensler’s confirmation in a virtual hearing Tuesday. Also being vetted and questioned is Rohit Chopra, a member of the Federal Trade Commission who is Biden’s nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Gensler is promising to work toward strengthening transparency and accountability in the markets. That will enable people “to invest with confidence and be protected from fraud and manipulation,” he said in written testimony prepared for the hearing. “It means promoting efficiency and competition, so our markets operate with lower costs to companies and higher returns to investors. … And above all, it means making sure our markets serve the needs of working families.”

The trading frenzy in shares of the struggling video-game retailer GameStop lifted their price 1,600% in January, though they later fell back to Earth after days of wild price swings. A number of big hedge funds had bet that GameStop stock would fall, only to be thwarted by small investors who banded together on social media with a wave of buying that sent the price up. The saga was portrayed as a victory of ordinary investors over Wall Street giants. But some lawmakers charged that the online trading platform Robinhood acted to favor its big Wall Street clients when it blocked its customers on Jan. 28 from buying GameStop shares.

The SEC is investigating. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen convened a meeting of top federal regulators to discuss the trading turbulence and whether the way the market operates may hurt individual investors.

Allison Herren Lee, the acting SEC chair, has said the agency is examining the role that short-selling may have played in GameStop’s extreme stock moves, as well as potential stock manipulation and whether companies issuing stocks are adequately disclosing risks to investors.

The GameStop episode has bolstered political momentum in the direction of closer regulation of the securities markets, though Republican lawmakers and regulators generally will oppose new rules. Possible avenues for new rules that have been raised include requiring market players to disclose short-selling positions and restricting arrangements of payment for order flow — a common practice in which Wall Street trading firms pay companies like Robinhood to send them their customers’ orders for execution.

Gensler was a leader and adviser of Biden’s presidential transition team responsible for the Federal Reserve, banking issues and securities regulation. He doesn’t appear to face enough opposition to derail his approval by the full Senate, which the Democrats control by a slim margin.

“Gensler will tip the SEC away from making it easy for companies to raise money and toward protecting unsophisticated investors,” says Erik Gordon, assistant business professor at the University of Michigan.

Jay Clayton, a former Wall Street lawyer who headed the SEC during the Trump administration, presided over a deregulatory push to soften rules affecting Wall Street and the financial markets, as President Donald Trump pledged when he took office. Rules under the Dodd-Frank law that tightened the reins on banks and Wall Street in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis and the Great Recession were relaxed. Clayton also eased rules for smaller companies raising capital in the market.

With a background of having worked for nearly 20 years at Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street powerhouse investment bank, Gensler surprised many by being a tough regulator of big banks as head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. He imposed oversight on the $400 trillion worldwide market for the complex financial instruments that helped spark the 2008-09 crisis. Gensler pushed for stricter regulations that big banks and financial firms had lobbied against, and he wasn’t afraid to take positions that clashed with the Obama administration.

Among his likely priorities as SEC chair would be requirements for corporations to disclose their climate change risks, political spending and executive compensation. Gensler, who co-authored a 2002 book of investing advice for moderate-income people titled “The Great Mutual Fund Trap,” also could push for protections in ordinary investors’ relationships with their advisers. He may take up tighter rules for new “blank-check” offerings used by companies in developing stages to raise money in the markets, observers say.

Gensler comes armed with receptiveness to new financial technologies and cryptocurrency. As a professor of economics and management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, he has focused research and teaching on public policy as well as digital currencies and blockchain, the global running ledgers of digital currency transactions.
WASHINGTON (AP) — By MARCY GORDON

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Huawei daughter back in Canada court in US extradition case

Associated Press

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Huawei daughter back in Canada court in US extradition case

Lawyers for a senior executive for Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies were in court Monday arguing evidence should be introduced which would undermine the case to have their client extradited to the U.S.

Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder and the company’s chief financial officer, at Vancouver’s airport in late 2018. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges. Her arrest infuriated Beijing, which sees her case as a political move designed to prevent China’s rise.

The U.S. accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It says Meng, 49, committed fraud by misleading the HSBC bank about the company’s business dealings in Iran. Much of the case centers around an August 2013 PowerPoint presentation made to a HSBC executive during a lunch in Hong Kong.

Defense lawyer Frank Addario asked the court to admit evidence he says shows officials with HSBC were aware of Huawei’s connection to Skycom and another company called Canicula Holdings Inc.

“It was widely known in the bank … that Huawei owned Skycom,” Addario told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes. “It sold Skycom to Canicula and thereafter Huawei controlled Canicula’s account at the bank.”

Addario said by omitting this evidence, the U.S. misled Canadian courts.

“The case put to you for the prosecution is the bank’s knowledge came from all these misleading statements by Huawei employees generally,” said Addario. “Once you see all this evidence the picture that emerges is a different picture abut the knowledge of HSBC employees generally and the decision makers.”

Canadian government lawyer Robert Frater told Holmes an extradition hearing is not a trial and said some of Addario’s comments are standard defense cross examination material.

“It is up to a trial to decide if a witness is credible and to determine what officials knew at a certain time. What my friend wants to do is to argue the trial issues,” Frater said.

Meng attended the hearing wearing a mask and an ankle tracking bracelet. She followed the proceedings with an interpreter while reading documents on her lap and taking sips of water.

Over the next several weeks, Meng’s defense team will present several justifications for halting the extradition proceedings.

On Wednesday they will be back in court to argue her arrest was politically motivated and will point to comments made by former U.S. President Donald Trump that he was using Meng as a bargaining chip to force a better trade deal with China.

Canada’s attorney general said in court documents that Trump’s comments were public statements by a president no longer in office about a possible intervention that never occurred.

Later this month, Meng’s lawyers will claim an abuse of process, saying Canada Border Services Agency officers detained and questioned Meng without a lawyer, seized her electronic devices and compelled her to give up the passcodes before her official arrest.

Her lawyers also contend the U.S. is exceeding the limits of its jurisdiction by prosecuting a foreign citizen for actions that took place in Hong Kong and that Canada was misled by the U.S. about the strength of its case.

Meng’s arrest has soured relations between Canada and China. In apparent retaliation, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor. China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola oilseed. China also handed death sentences to four Canadians convicted of drug smuggling. Kovrig and Spavor remain jailed. Meng remains free on bail in Vancouver and living in a mansion.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — By JIM MORRIS.

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