SoftBank urges WeWork to shelve IPO over valuation concerns: FT

The conglomerate, a leading shareholder in the startup's holding company, is seeking funds from investors for a second Vision Fund

Tokyo

SOFTBANK Group, a leading shareholder in the holding company of US office-sharing startup WeWork, has urged it to shelve a planned IPO on concerns over the valuation, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

A SoftBank spokeswoman declined to comment on the report, which cited sources familiar with the matter.

Investor scepticism has already forced money-losing The We Company to consider slashing its IPO valuation to a little more than US$20 billion, sources told Reuters last week. That followed weak initial trading at other startups, including SoftBank-backed Uber Technologies Inc.

While SoftBank and its US$100 billion Vision Fund emphasise their long-term investing credentials, founder and CEO Masayoshi Son has set out an ambitious IPO pipeline for tech investments spanning ride-hailing, fintech and health startups.

Putting The We Company's offering on hold would disrupt that schedule at a time when SoftBank is seeking funds from investors for a second Vision Fund. SoftBank made a follow-up investment in We Company, one of its biggest tech bets, at a US$47 billion valuation earlier this year - a number widely treated with scepticism by analysts.

Sanford C Bernstein analyst Chris Lane said that if The We Company halts the IPO, SoftBank could come up with an alternative funding plan for the startup, which he estimates needs US$9 billion in funding to become cash-flow positive.

"SoftBank has got an important voice, but more importantly, it has money ... (The We Company) will have to listen to them," said Mr Lane, who values the office space-sharing firm at US$23 billion.

Tech conglomerate SoftBank has burnt through much of the US$100 billion raised by its first Vision Fund in just two years, recording big paper gains on internal revaluations of its tech investments.

Vision Fund defends its valuation techniques, which include cash-flow analysis, recent transactions and comparison with peers to underpin its numbers.

At the end of June, the fund recorded the value of US$71 billion invested in 83 investments as having grown by US$20 billion. Since then, the share prices of portfolio companies Uber and Slack have both fallen by around a third.

SoftBank says many investments receive a vote of confidence as third parties come in as co-investors or by making follow-on investments at the same or higher valuations. REUTERS