Masayoshi Son shook up the tech industry with his mega fund and $45 billion of Saudi cash. He may struggle to do it again.
The SoftBank CEO launched the $93 billion Vision Fund in May 2017, with nearly half the money coming from the Saudi government. The fund has already made big investments in dozens of startups such as WeWork and Slack.
Son has repeatedly talked about plans for a second Vision Fund, announcing in May that it would be set up in the “near future.” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledged $45 billion for the new fund last week during an interview with Bloomberg.
But doubts are rising about whether Son can pull off Vision Fund 2 amid the international pressure on Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and apparent murder of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The “fly in the ointment is the dependence on the Saudis,” said Amir Anvarzadeh, a strategist at Asymmetric Advisors, which provides analysis on Japanese stocks for investors.
Silicon Valley firms may shun Vision Fund money now because they don’t want “to become associated with what they might consider as blood money,” he said.
Asymmetric Advisors removed SoftBank (SFTBF) from its list of key stock recommendations earlier this week. The Japanese company’s share price has fallen nearly 15% since Khashoggi disappeared on October 2, hit by concerns about its Saudi ties and the broad sell-off in tech stocks.
Son’s company is now playing down the idea that another giant tech fund is imminent.
“Vision Fund 2 is just a concept at the moment,” SoftBank spokesman Takeaki Nukii said in an email Friday. “Timing, scale and details are not decided and [have] not been disclosed.”
Silent on Saudi conference
Some of the world’s top business leaders have sought to distance themselves from the Saudi government as questions mounted over the disappearance of Khashoggi. A columnist for the Washington Post who criticized Saudi rulers, he hasn’t been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
British billionaire Richard Branson put investment talks with the Saudi government on hold. And senior executives from companies like JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Google (GOOGL) have pulled out of a major Saudi investment conference in Riyadh next week.
The exodus of CEOs includes Dara Khosrowshahi of Uber, in which SoftBank and the Saudi government have invested billions.
SoftBank has remained silent over whether Son and other top executives will still attend the event. The company declined to comment on the matter Friday.
Masa Son’s dream in danger
Getting companies like that to sign on to another giant fund that’s largely fueled by Saudi oil riches looks difficult now.
Relying on the Saudis “might chase some people from the fund,” said Dan Baker, an analyst with Morning Star who follows SoftBank.
He argued that putting off a second Vision Fund isn’t necessarily a bad thing for SoftBank. Spending the first fund’s vast sums is already going to be a challenge.
“They’re a massive fund investing in a not-so-massive space, so they really have to look at and invest in a lot of things to give the money away,” Baker said.
But the failure to make a new fund happen would be a huge setback to Son’s quest to build a family of companies that will change the world by using artificial intelligence and connected devices. The 61-year-old tycoon has said he wants to launch a new Vision Fund every two to three years.
Son said earlier this year that he plans to take a step back from running the rest of SoftBank to focus on finding and investing in more promising tech startups.
He may need to find someone else to help bankroll his big ideas.