Time to reflect upon this: Softbank is working hard, putting together another investment fund, the Vision Fund, to replicate prior successes like Alibaba.
A small investment in Alibaba, made about fifteen years ago by Masayoshi Son, is now worth many, many billions. Only Yahoo’s Jerry Yang had the same “luck” when he invested in Alibaba a little over ten years ago. Yang’s investment has grown to overshadow the worth of Yahoo’s other operating businesses.
Alibaba’s public stock offering provided an opportunity to cash out for Yahoo and Softbank. Last year, some of Softbank’s Alibaba shares were sold for $10 billion in order to pay down debt and strengthen the balance sheet. Softbank still owns about one third of Alibaba.
Yahoo doesn’t own a third of Alibaba, but still has a substantial ownership. Like Softbank, Yahoo sold some Alibaba shares; this time, the sale was in 2014 and by Marissa Mayers. Unlocking value in the remaining Alibaba shares, the machination of Starboard Value’s Jeffrey Smith, has lead to selling of Yahoo‘s online business to Verizon.
What would happen if Jeffery Smith and Masayoshi Son were wrong? That Alibaba isn’t worth so much. Then they wouldn’t need to worry so much. For example, Naspers small bet on Tencent is now worth many, many billions, leaving current the CEO with an “existential crisis” of his next bet.
In these euphoric times, Alibaba may not be that high. Famed short-seller, Jim Chanos did have a short position on Alibaba as of last year. His shorting thesis is that Alibaba’s true earnings are obscured by the use off-balance entities. His trade may be wrong, but what is right is understanding the importance of Alibaba’s value to Softbank and to a lesser degree, Yahoo.
It’s not china, but with Alibaba, we must be careful, because it could break.