(Bloomberg) -- SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son is trying harder than ever to convince investors of the potential for his many technology investments.
At a general shareholders’ meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday, Son shared some predictions that were eye-popping even by the standards of the outspoken Japanese billionaire. The value of SoftBank’s investment portfolio could grow 33-fold to 200 trillion yen ($1.8 trillion) in 20 years, he said. That’s an annual growth rate of 19%. The numbers were so outlandish that Son had to add a caveat.
“Let me be clear that this is not a business plan,” he said. “It’s a tall tale.”
The gathering was SoftBank’s 39th shareholders meeting, with about 2,000 investors present. Son’s remarks drew laughs and even feigned outrage from directors. Fast Retailing Co. CEO Tadashi Yanai, who sits on SoftBank’s board and is Japan’s richest man, urged shareholders to look out for Son “or he will go out of control.”
The billionaire’s projections include investments by the Vision Fund. But even bullish analysts have much more modest projections for that portfolio. Chris Lane of Sanford C. Bernstein recently estimated the net present value of the current and future funds at $50 billion to $85 billion.
Son then reminded shareholders how 15 years ago at the very same auditorium he presented another seemingly improbable target -- SoftBank with 1 to 2 trillion yen in profit. At the time, the company booked over 100 billion yen in losses. Annual net income has exceeded 1 trillion yen for the past three years.
Over that period of time, Son has expanded into wireless operations with the acquisition of Vodafone Group Plc’s Japan unit, acquired Sprint Corp. in the U.S. and launched the $100 billion Vision Fund to transform SoftBank into a technology investment juggernaut. Still, the company trades at a deep discount to the worth of its holdings. The total value of the conglomerate’s publicly traded shareholdings is around 21 trillion yen, while SoftBank’s market cap is roughly 10.7 trillion yen. By the company’s own estimation, there is a discount of about 50%.
Son’s message to investors is that when it comes to technology, he is ahead of the curve. He was early to recognize the value of e-commerce and invest in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. SoftBank was also first to introduce Apple Inc.’s iPhone in Japan. Now Son believes the world is on the verge of another technological shift, driven by artificial intelligence that will transform every industry. He argues that the company’s portfolio of unicorns from Uber Technologies Inc. to WeWork Cos. positions SoftBank to reap the most benefits from that disruption.
“I wish I had the money to make tons of investments at the start of the internet revolution. I could see it coming,” Son said. “We started the Vision Fund at the very beginning of the AI revolution.”
At least a few of the investors present took him at his word.
“Son may talk big, but just look at what he has actually accomplished,” said Yasuhiro Suzuki, a SoftBank shareholder of about 20 years. “I have been to many of these meetings, but today Son seemed especially in high spirits.”
The Vision Fund is nearing the end of its investment cycle and SoftBank is in the process of raising a second one of equal size, Son said. The two funds will be successive. SoftBank is in talks with limited partners in the first fund to renew their investments.The company is increasing staff at the fund to 1,000 people, from 415 now.
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