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After WeWork, the market is concerned about SoftBank's massive debt load again

After WeWork, the market is concerned about SoftBank's massive debt load again

3 -min read
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3 -min read
Listen to this article

[TOKYO] Concern about SoftBank Group Corp's massive debt load has reared its head again after the company unveiled a US$9.5 billion bailout for WeWork this week, hurting its shares and bonds.

While the price tag for SoftBank to rescue the debt-riddled US shared-office startup isn't seen as big relative to its total investment portfolio, concern is growing about the impact on its leverage. Analysts expect its loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, a key metric looking at its net interest-bearing debt against the value of investments, to rise as a result of the WeWork acquisition, though they generally see it staying below the company's target.

"This announcement is a fundamental credit negative for SoftBank Group," wrote Mary Pollock, a senior analyst at CreditSights, in a report. She said the deal will increase SoftBank's LTV to 22.8 per cent.

SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son has said he wants to keep that gauge below 25 per cent. The gauge was at 18 per cent as of Friday.

SoftBank spokeswoman Hiroe Kotera said: "Our company's financial policy has not changed."

Separate news also fuelled concern about the value of the investment portfolio at billionaire Mr Son's firm, which could also impact the key LTV ratio. The company is planning to take a writedown to its Vision Fund of at least US$5 billion to reflect a plunge in the value of some of its biggest holdings, including WeWork and Uber Technologies Inc, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Rating companies haven't changed their debt scores for SoftBank after the WeWork news. Moody's Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings grade it as junk.

The price of SoftBank's most recent yen notes fell to the lowest since they were issued last month, and the cost to insure its debt against default touched the highest level since January.

SoftBank's shares dropped 6.6 per cent this week, the worst performance in two and a half months. Atul Goyal, an analyst at Jefferies, cut SoftBank to Hold on Friday, one of only two analysts out of 19 tracking the company to confer that rating.

"SoftBank would be an interesting stock for gambling purposes as it's volatile, but I don't think it's a stable investment product for fixed-income traders," said Katsuyuki Tokushima, head of pension research of financial research department at NLI Research Institute.

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