|Bid||25.00 x 900|
|Ask||26.09 x 800|
|Day's range||25.95 - 26.10|
|52-week range||20.11 - 27.50|
|Beta (5Y monthly)||1.45|
|PE ratio (TTM)||1.42|
|Forward dividend & yield||1.57 (6.01%)|
|Ex-dividend date||23 Apr 2020|
|1y target est||N/A|
(Bloomberg) -- The head of SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund received a substantial increase in compensation even as the investment business delivered a $17.7 billion loss.Rajeev Misra earned 1.61 billion yen ($15 million) in the year ended March 31, more than double his pay a year earlier, SoftBank said in a statement on Friday. The Vision Fund lost 1.9 trillion yen in the period, triggering the worst loss ever in the Japanese company’s 39-year history.SoftBank had to write down the valuations of companies like WeWork and Uber Technologies Inc. because of business missteps and the coronavirus fallout. Its return on the fund was negative 6%, compared with 62% just a year ago. Still, Misra was SoftBank’s second-highest-paid executive last year after Chief Operating Officer Marcelo Claure, even though Misra received no bonus and most of his compensation was in base pay. Founder Masayoshi Son took a 9% compensation cut, earning 209 million yen.“What kind of message is Son sending by giving Misra a raise despite the disastrous results he delivered?” said Atul Goyal, senior analyst at Jefferies Group. “The optics is just not good.”The pay hike for Misra comes at a time when the Vision Fund is planning deep cuts in staffing. The reductions across all levels of staff could affect about 10% of the fund’s workforce of roughly 500, according to people familiar with the matter. The Vision Fund, which has stopped making new investments after spending 85% of its capital, lists 30 people as investors on its website, including all of its managing partners, partners and directors.The fund has struggled since WeWork botched its efforts to go public last year and SoftBank stepped in to bail the company out. The Vision Fund currently manages more than 80 portfolio companies, but Son expects about 15 of the fund’s startups will likely go bankrupt while predicting another 15 will thrive.Separately, SoftBank is moving two managing partners at the Vision Fund into new roles. Akshay Naheta will become senior vice president, assisting Son in investments and providing strategic advice. Kentaro Matsui will transition to a senior advisory role at SoftBank Group.Claure, who helped close Sprint Corp.’s merger with T-Mobile US Inc. and is leading the effort to turn around WeWork, made 2.11 billion yen, a 17% raise. He also oversees a Latin American investment fund for SoftBank.SoftBank declined to comment on the reasons for changes in pay.Chief Strategy Officer Katsunori Sago earned 1.11 billion yen, a 13% increase for the former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive. Ken Miyauchi, head of SoftBank’s domestic telecom operation, made 699 million yen, a 43% drop. Simon Segars, head of its ARM Holdings Plc chip unit, did not make the list because his pay dropped below 100 million yen. Segars earned 1.1 billion yen the previous year.Ronald Fisher, Son’s long-time lieutenant and SoftBank Group vice chairman, saw his pay plunge 79% to 680 million yen. Fisher’s remuneration from the Vision Fund, where he runs the U.S. operations, totaled 1.27 billion yen, including a 767 million yen bonus. But he lost 701 million yen in compensation not related to the fund. SoftBank said the drop reflects a decline in stock price, but didn’t provide further details.SoftBank’s disastrous bet on WeWork has been viewed internally as Fisher’s project. Before SoftBank first invested in the company in 2017, Fisher met with executives at IWG Plc, a European competitor with a much lower valuation and many more sites, according to people familiar with the matter. Fisher interpreted the unfavorable metrics as a sign of growth potential. A month later, the Vision Fund led a $4.4 billion investment round into WeWork at a $20 billion valuation.Last year, after WeWork’s effort to go public fell apart, SoftBank stepped in to organize a bailout and put Claure in charge of turning around the business. But the pandemic has hammered its operations as workers shy away from gathering in shared office spaces. Earlier this month, SoftBank wrote down the value of its stake to $2.9 billion, more than 90% lower than its peak.(Updates with analyst comment in fourth paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Wall Street giants such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have tens of billions of dollars at stake in China as political tension risks derailing the nation’s opening of its $45 trillion financial market.Five big U.S. banks had a combined $70.8 billion of exposure to China in 2019, with JPMorgan alone plowing $19.2 billion into lending, trading and investing. That’s a 10% increase from 2018.While their assets in the country are comparatively small, they have big expansion plans there that may come undone if financial services firms are dragged into the tit-for-tat between the two countries. Not only would that cloud their growth plans, it would also threaten the income they have generated over the years from advising Chinese companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.Profits in China’s brokerage industry could hit $47 billion by 2026, Goldman estimates, with foreign firms gunning for a considerable chunk. There are $8 billion in estimated commercial banking profits as well as a projected $30 trillion in overall assets to go after, also being pursued by fund giants such as Blackrock Inc. and Vanguard Group Inc.“If you’re an American financial institution and you have an approved plan to expand into China, you’re going to continue that plan to the extent that the U.S. government allows you to because you see great future profits,” said James Stent, a former banker who’s spent more than a decade on the boards of two Chinese lenders. “A U.S.-China cold war is not good for your plans to build business in China.”After years of trade war turmoil, U.S. policy makers are now starting to take aim at the financial industry amid growing skepticism over American firms plowing money into a country perceived as a big geopolitical foe. Policy makers and lawmakers are looking at restricting U.S. pension fund investments in Chinese companies and limiting the ability of Chinese companies to raise capital in the U.S.A body advising the U.S. Congress this week questioned Wall Street’s push, saying lawmakers need to “evaluate the desirability of greater U.S. participation in a financial market that remains warped by the political priorities of a strategic competitor.” Add to that potential sanctions against China and even its banks over the crackdown on Hong Kong, and the situation could further escalate.President Donald Trump said he’s “not happy with China” after the country passed a new security law on Hong Kong and will announce new U.S. policies on Friday. His top economic adviser said Beijing would be held accountable by the U.S.Here’s a run down on the biggest U.S. banks’ presence in China right now and their plans.GoldmanGoldman, which has spent years lobbying for control of its onshore business, won approval this year. Chief Executive Officer David Solomon has pledged to infuse its mainland business with hundreds of millions of dollars in new capital as the bank plans to embark on a hiring spree to double its workforce to 600 and ramp up a wide variety of businesses.Goldman put its “cross-border outstandings” to China at $13.2 billion at the end of last year. But its two onshore operations had capital of just 1.8 billion yuan ($251 million), making a profit of almost 300 million yuan.A spokesman for Goldman declined to comment.Morgan StanleyHosting an annual summit in Beijing with 1,900 investors and 600 companies last year, Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman said in a Bloomberg Television interview that the bank is in China “for the long run.” He highlighted its presence there for 25 years and its handling of hundreds of billions of dollars in equity and merger deals for Chinese businesses.Morgan Stanley won a nod to take majority control of its securities venture this year, and last year had a net exposure of $4.1 billion to Chinese clients. Its local securities unit, however, has revenue of just 132 million yuan, posting a loss of 109 million yuan last year.The bank has been overhauling senior management of the venture, installing its staff in key roles. It plans to apply for additional licenses to broaden its products and invest in new businesses, build market-making capability and expand its asset management partnership and ultimately take control.“It’s a natural evolution to bring the global investment banks into this market,” Gorman said in May last year.A Morgan Stanley spokesman declined to comment.JPMorganThe biggest U.S. bank has been doing business in China since 1921. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon has said that his firm is committed to bringing its “full force” to the country. This year it applied for full control of an asset management firm as well as a securities venture, and is expanding its office space in China’s tallest skyscraper in downtown Shanghai.JPMorgan’s China total exposure in 2019 was $19.2 billion, including $11.3 billion in lending and deposits and $6.5 billion in trading and investing.JPMorgan China’s banking unit had 47 billion yuan in assets last year and made a profit of 276 million yuan, while its newly started securities firm had capital of 800 million yuan.A JPMorgan spokeswoman declined to comment.CitigroupCitigroup Inc., which has been doing business in China since 1902, had total exposure to the country of $18.7 billion at the end of last year. Its local banking arm had total assets of 178 billion yuan, making a profit of 2.1 billion yuan.Citigroup, which is setting up a new securities venture in China, is the only U.S. lender that has a consumer banking business in the country with footprint in 12 cities including Beijing, Changsha and Chengdu.New York-based Citigroup said last month that it has doubled its overall revenue from China to more than $1 billion over the past decade.China represents 1.1% of Citi’s total global exposure and includes local top tier corporate loans and loans to US and other global companies with operations in China, a bank spokesman said.Bank of AmericaBank of America Corp., the only major bank to decide against pursuing a securities joint venture, is continuing to expand into the world’s second-largest economy. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender is looking to provide a fuller range of fixed income services in the country.Its largest emerging market country exposure in 2019 was China, with net of $15.6 billion, concentrated in loans to large state-owned companies, subsidiaries of multinational corporations and commercial banks. It followed only the U.S., U.K., Germany, Canada and France in terms of exposure for the bank.A spokeswoman for the bank declined to comment.(Adds Trump comments in eighth paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
A U.S. judge on Thursday said institutional investors, including BlackRock Inc <BLK.N> and Allianz SE's <ALVG.DE> Pacific Investment Management Co, can pursue much of their lawsuit accusing 15 major banks of rigging prices in the $6.6 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market. U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield in Manhattan said the nearly 1,300 plaintiffs, including many mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, plausibly alleged that the banks conspired to rig currency benchmarks from 2003 to 2013 and profit at their expense. "This is an injury of the type the antitrust laws were intended to prevent," Schofield wrote in a 40-page decision.
(Bloomberg) -- Not many Goldman Sachs partners seek out citizenship in a tiny Caribbean island to speed through airports. Ali Meli wasn’t your typical Goldman partner.Couch-surfing inside the investment bank, an almost $10 million paycheck as a junior trader and clashing with peers are all parts of the legend of Meli, described by colleagues as an unlikely figure in Wall Street’s most elite club: Abrasive but brilliant, subversive but successful, and above all one of its most “eccentric” figures.Now, after exiting the investment bank last year, Meli is setting up his own venture in some of the most treacherous markets in generations. The 38-year-old plans to recreate a model of doing business that he learned in an especially profitable part of Goldman’s trading division, putting together complex financing deals.“Everything about Ali was unusual but he was one of the most incredible people we’ve ever hired,” said Ram Sundaram, who brought Meli into his team, which went on to become the Principal Funding & Investments group. “He could think through all aspects of a deal to a degree that was abnormal. He was in a league of his own.”Meli is now seeking the backing of many of his former mentors as he looks to raise money for a structured credit fund, ramping up at a time of severe economic disruption.As companies seek out capital amid market distress, Meli hopes he finds himself in the center of transactions, borrowing a playbook from his Goldman days.Passport ShoppingBorn in the shadow of the Iran revolution, Meli’s earliest memories of Tehran, where he spent 20 years, was the conflict with Iraq, as his family shuttled between houses to shield themselves.“To some extent it was awesome -- the night lights up,” Meli said of the artillery and warplanes that thundered over the city. “When you’re a kid and you see these things, you don’t feel fear. It feels like a movie and it’s so cool. You don’t have the right context.”Meli’s ticket to escape the mandatory deployment in Iran’s army was a world physics competition. He later left the country altogether on a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.After a delay in his security clearance, Meli landed in Boston on Sept. 10, 2001. Terrorists attacked the U.S. early the next morning, prompting unprecedented scrutiny of recent arrivals from the Middle East. Meli soon had to submit to a government registry tracking his movements. But it didn’t end there.Every time he flew, the Iranian emigre was singled out for more rigorous checks. Even years later, while jet-setting with Goldman bankers to set up billion-dollar trades, the airport ordeals continued. So he solved it in a way only the wealthy would -- he went passport shopping.Meli settled on St. Kitts and Nevis, a haven for the rich where a property investment can buy citizenship outright. When Goldman published its full list of partners last year, he was the sole member of the group professing ties to the island nation.Ali Meli’s name is itself a bureaucratic mishap. Someone in the Social Security office misspelled the fairly common Iranian name “Melli.” He chose to live on with the new identity, not wanting to get into any paperwork battle that could jeopardize his status in the U.S.Harvey’s OfficeFor Meli, the worry of being sent back to Iran was paramount. His response was insane work hours.During his early days at Goldman, after other traders went home, Meli would sneak into one of the plush partner offices to sleep. He often found refuge on the office couch belonging to Harvey Schwartz, then a senior deputy to trading co-head Gary Cohn. Both men nearly went on to become the bank’s CEO.Meli’s justification: “Harvey had an open-door policy.”“I was worried about losing my job because it would have meant deportation to Iran,” Meli said. “I didn’t want to risk that. But I wasn’t stupid -- I never slept on Gary’s couch.” Cohn, known for his hard-charging ways, eventually joined President Donald Trump’s White House.Word of Meli’s antics started making the rounds soon after his arrival.The reception he got on the trading floor in the mid-2000s wouldn’t fly today. He was branded “Smelly Ali” -- a riff on his name, Ali S Meli -- and “Chemical Ali” -- after Saddam Hussein’s trusted adviser accused of gassing Kurds and executed in 2010. Meli said he reveled in the attention.“I had a few nicknames and I enjoyed it,” he said.There were also awkward moments. At one point he copied lyrics from a love ballad into a performance review of his manager, to express adoration. He was promptly told off.Yet Meli charted quick success, becoming a pillar of Sundaram’s group. Known as PFI, it had latitude to use Goldman’s own money to take on positions that wouldn’t be easy to quickly offload. Some of its big-ticket financings around the 2008 credit crisis generated massive gains for Goldman even as the rest of Wall Street struggled.The group came to be seen as a clique inside Goldman’s trading operation. Once a loose coalition of fewer than a dozen executives, it has been at the forefront of some of the most knotty transactions that can churn out big “P&L,” jargon for profits and losses. Its deals ranged from helping Sprint raise cash backed by airwaves, to financing Mexican toll roads. The group even structured bonds for Malaysia’s 1MDB investment fund after Goldman investment bankers clinched the troubled business. Officials in the country later looted the money.Insulated from the rest of the trading division, PFI’s stature grew as it tackled outsize risks and generated eye-popping returns.Meli just happened to be its quirkiest and most outspoken member, unafraid of challenging colleagues’ views. Some senior partners came to rate others based on how they fared in confrontations with him.$10 Million PaydayJust a few years into his banking career, Meli was already eyeing big risks. He encouraged his team to pile on short positions as the housing market headed into the 2008 credit crisis.“Bottom line: housing is in free fall,” he wrote in an email in August 2006 after poring through reports. Sundaram’s crew ramped up wagers against asset-backed indexes and bond-insurance companies. Meli said he framed a printed copy of that email after the hedges paid off for Goldman.Meli also had a hand in another incident that reverberated across financial markets. He helped his team come up with the valuation for marking down positions in its swaps transaction with AIG, which forced the insurer to put up more cash as others followed suit. AIG insisted for years that Goldman’s aggressive move was what led to its failure.“It’s one of those things you wish you weren’t right,” Meli said. “But what caused the marks to go down was not because we put the marks down, but a real housing recession had started to hit.”Some of the most profitable transactions were trades Goldman designed with the likes of CIT Group and European banks. That helped Meli score his giant paycheck for 2009. But as his success mounted, so did his skirmishes. Often passionate, he wouldn’t hold back in disagreements over transactions -- incidents that sometimes left more-senior colleagues red-faced.“He was unusually bright and eccentric,” said Joe McNeila, a former colleague in the PFI group. “It was a business of natural conflict. He could be very formidable and he was a tough guy to go up against.”Meli was one of the youngest people in Goldman’s class of new partners in 2014, but looking back, he figures that his combativeness probably slowed him down.“There was a period when I would get into these arguments sometimes with people more senior than me,” he said. “I was told I needed to learn to be more humble, and it was a valuable lesson.”Days after he was named partner, he bought his first car: a second-hand Mercedes.Over the years, people familiar with the situation said, his bosses fielded grievances that ranged from the ordinary to the bizarre.For a stretch of time, Meli tried commuting daily from Toronto to New York, raising concerns among colleagues about his manic schedule. He launched a crusade to support higher pay for junior bankers, which raised hackles. He proposed transactions that, while legal, were so novel or aggressive that bosses would sometimes squirm, worried about the optics.His political views on government overreach and the impact of regulation on daily life also made some colleagues uncomfortable.He jumped on the Trump train before many on Wall Street. And since becoming a permanent resident in 2018, he’s become a prolific political operative, dispensing more than a quarter million dollars to mostly conservative and libertarian candidates.Meli gave up butting heads at Goldman and officially exited the bank last year.This year, markets are presenting a once-in-a-century opportunity for brave credit traders. Meli’s firm has already announced a transaction, a credit line to a fintech company in Colombia. He’s named his new venture Monachil Capital Partners after a Spanish village that traces its name to the word monastery -- to try to denote inner calm, he said.(Updates with detail on investment in final paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
For now, if you want financial advice from Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS), you'll have to obtain it from a human associate of the company. In remarks made during a presentation at a financial services industry conference, the company's president and COO John Waldron said it wouldn't launch its planned robo-advisory service this year. "We have decided to slow our advisor hiring activity for this year and we will defer the launch of our digital wealth offering into 2021."
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The deterioration of U.S.-China relations is fast and furious, with Washington throwing out accusations of unfair trade practices, unlawful technology transfer and an early cover-up of the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed over 100,000 American lives. The Chinese yuan, this year’s beacon of stability, is now is now at risk of tumbling like other emerging markets currencies.On Wednesday, the offshore yuan, which trades freely, flirted with its weakest level on record, dropping as much as 0.7% to 7.1965. While Thursday morning’s yuan fix came in stronger than expected, the overall sentiment is downbeat.It’s tempting to theorize that a weaker yuan could become a powerful weapon in the new Cold War, yet there’s little evidence of foul play from the People’s Bank of China. Since mid-2017, the central bank has based its fixing on the previous day’s close, dollar movement overnight against a currency basket, and what it calls the “countercyclical factor," a catch-all metric that grants wiggle room to deviate from market fundamentals. The yuan can move in a 2% trading range around the PBOC’s daily target.Take a look at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s estimate of the countercyclical factor. Over the last year, the PBOC has been consistently guiding its yuan stronger, not weaker, to artificially track the dollar. For all the theatrics of getting labeled a currency manipulator, Beijing wasn’t making its exports any cheaper.What’s new this year is the PBOC’s Zen-like attitude. Rather than playing the heroic fireman, handling one crisis after another, the central bank has been largely hands-off. It has used the countercyclical factor in a meaningful way only twice since January, on Feb. 4 when China emerged from the Lunar New Year holiday to face a national lockdown, and at the end of March when the outbreak was shaking up global markets.And why should the PBOC adhere to the dollar anyway? The coronavirus downturn has only showcased America’s exceptionalism — it prints the world’s reserve currency. Haven demand for the dollar has surged, evidenced by soaring currency swap rates from the euro zone to South Korea, and the Federal Reserve’s scramble to re-establish swap lines with other central banks. Looking back to 2008, the greenback only started to weaken two months after demand for “emergency dollars” peaked, data provided by Deutsche Bank AG show.So it makes sense for China to adopt a more enlightened approach, allowing the yuan to weaken during periods of dollar strength, and catch up when global tensions recede. From the PBOC’s view, the trade-weighted yuan is certainly stronger now than it was last fall, when the central bank was in fire-fighting mode. China doesn’t want to spend another $1 trillion of its foreign reserves defending its currency. The rapid drawdown in 2015 and 2016 traumatized the Chinese for good.To be sure, the pressure of capital outflows is still there. Just look at the consistent negative value of the “net error and omissions” figures in China’s balance of payment data. However, here’s the beauty of the virus: The Chinese can’t go anywhere. They can’t come to Hong Kong to buy insurance products, and unless you’re ultra-rich (with private bankers around the world apartment-hunting for you), Manhattan real estate is off-limits. The PBOC has less to worry about than before.So now the market can test the true value of the yuan. It could easily drop below 7.30 if the phase one trade deal breaks down and the Trump administration imposes some of the tariffs it had previously threatened, estimates HSBC Holdings Plc.Long-time China bear Kyle Bass abandoned his yuan short in early 2019 for the greenback-pegged Hong Kong dollar. He didn’t profit from his yuan trade because the PBOC established powerful tools, such as selling yuan-denominated bills in the offshore market, to kill anyone betting against the currency. Now that their interests are becoming aligned, it’s time for the bears to wake up.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Shuli Ren is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Asian markets. She previously wrote on markets for Barron's, following a career as an investment banker, and is a CFA charterholder.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The Chinese consumer has been one of the most important drivers of the world economy over the past decade, fueling hopes of prolonged growth and profits. So it’s worth looking at what’s happening to household balance sheets as Covid-19 wreaks havoc on a population now feeling the downside of growing personal leverage from the boom. In the last major financial crisis, big-spending Americans were hit hard, but the Chinese found new ways to open their wallets and took the rest of the global economy along for the ride. China accounted for 31% of growth in household consumption between 2010 and 2017, World Bank data show, bringing its share now to about 10%. That includes around 30% of spending on cars, luxury retail and mobile phones, and hundreds of billions of dollars on travel and tourism.Chinese consumers are the “single most important thing in the world economy,” Jim O’Neill, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. chief economist, told the Financial Times last year. They could be key to the next 40 years of growth, and it’s unlikely that any other country could replace them.Will they be able to spend away the global economy’s gloom this time? They’ll have their own worries to deal with first.In the quarter to March, disposable household income shrank sharply for the first time since at least 2013, putting strain on balance sheets in which new forms of credit and financial assets take up a bigger part. Consumer credit – from cards to peer-to-peer loans and other lending – has proliferated in recent years. A central bank survey showed that around 60% of household assets are parked in real estate; some 97% of liabilities are tied up in bank loans, with mortgages almost 70% of the total. As borrowings and incomes diverge, stresses on individuals and families rise. All told, households owe 63 trillion yuan ($8 trillion), or 65% of gross domestic product, according to CLSA Ltd. analysts. Leverage is more than 130% of last year’s earnings. Adjusted on a GDP per capita basis, that puts China among the highest in relation to major countries. The debt service ratio is climbing much faster compared to the U.S., Australia and Japan.Spending patterns are changing due to lockdowns, less money and changes in consumer psychology brought by the coronavirus. Online shopping has increased, of course. The gross merchandise value of essentials and goods like home hygiene products has surged. A UBS Evidence Lab survey in April showed that while people were returning to work, 54% of respondents said their incomes had declined, and 60% had reduced offline spending. Fewer than half expected a pay raise soon and just over a quarter planned to reduce their debts. Property purchases were being put on hold.That austerity is probably a good thing. Early signs already point to trouble. Credit card delinquencies are rising. Consumption loan asset-backed securities are even weaker, with overdue payments rising sharply from 6% in January to over 9% in March. That indicates a deteriorating quality of household balance sheets between prime and weaker borrowers. Non-performing consumer credit is expected to double this year.Middle-class borrowers have been China’s big spenders, but much of the incremental growth was going to come from aspiring buyers trying to enter higher socio-economic strata. Now, they won’t quite make it. If they’re hurting, who will spend? Goldman analysts point out that in China, not only is the marginal propensity to consume for lower-income urban households greater than for higher earners. It also varies widely with migrant workers spending less than those in cities, even at similar levels of income.Since China modernized its economy in recent decades, the new generations of consumers have arguably never faced a lesson in crisis management. The shock for them may be greater in some ways than what American households endured circa 2008. So far, delinquencies in the U.S. have held steady. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, first-quarter national non-housing debt was flat, and fell for credit cards. While there is no doubt that U.S. consumer spending will suffer as income insecurity and joblessness rise, a social safety net is in place. China’s remains underdeveloped and an unemployment problem is brewing.How Chinese deal with these pressures will matter. Sure, it’s comforting that a large portion of wealth is stashed in hard real estate assets. But a change in property values or prices doesn’t really impact consumption of durable goods. What happens when cash flows shrink? The retail spending that the economy needs to revive won’t materialize for countless businesses, incomes will continue to decline, and the vicious circle continues. Beijing’s stimulus for individuals needs to be more robust.Whatever a new normal looks like, the individual Chinese spender may no longer be as reliable a part of it. Those looking for a consumption boost may want to turn elsewhere.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Anjani Trivedi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies in Asia. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal. For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Goldman Sachs make a key argument on the economic recovery in its latest piece of research.
The iconic New York Stock Exchange floor is back open for business. Here is what New York Stock Exchange President Stacey Cunningham told Yahoo Finance.
The investment bank plans to launch the service in the United Kingdom in September, and the rest of Europe by end of the year.
Despite the coronavirus-related woes, Goldman (GS) is planning to launch its new cash management platform globally by the end of this year.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Big spending numbers are being thrown around in China, once again. This time, it’s trillions of yuan of fiscal stimulus on all things tech. The plans are bold and vague: China wants to bring technology into its mainstream infrastructure buildout and, in the process, heave the economy out of a gloom due only partly to the coronavirus.But will this move the needle for China to achieve some kind of technological dominance? Or increase jobs, or boost favored companies? Not as much as the numbers would suggest, and possibly very little. A country covered in 5G networks makes for a tech-savvy society; it's less clear that this money will boost industrial innovation or even productivity.Over the next few years, national-level plans include injecting more than 2.5 trillion yuan ($352 billion) into over 550,000 base stations, a key building block of 5G infrastructure, and 500 billion yuan into ultra-high-voltage power. Local governments have ideas, too. They want data centers and cloud computing projects, among other things. Jiangsu is looking for faster connectivity for smart medical care, smart transportation and, well, all things smart. Shanghai’s City Action Plan alone is supposed to total 270 billon yuan.By 2025, China will have invested an estimated $1.4 trillion. According to a work report released Friday in conjunction with the start of the National People’s Congress, the government plans to prioritize “new infrastructure and new urbanization initiatives” to boost consumption and growth. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts have said that new infrastructure sectors could total 2 trillion yuan ($281 billion) this year, and twice that in 2021. Funding is being secured through special bonds and big banks. The Shanghai provincial administration, for instance, plans to get more than 40% of its needs from capital markets, and the rest from central government funds and special loans. Thousands of funds have been set up in various industries since 2018, and some goals were set forth in previous plans.Policymakers are aggressively driving the fiscal stimulus narrative through this new infrastructure lens. Building big things is a tried and true fallback in China, from the nation’s own road-and-rail networks to its most important soft-power foreign policy, the belt-and-road initiative to connect the globe in a physical network for trade. It’s less obvious that this will work for technology. The reality is that the central-government approved projects add up to only around 10% of infrastructure spending and 3% of total fixed asset investment. The plans lack the focus or evidence of expertise to show quite how China would achieve technological dominance. Thousands more charging stations for electric cars won’t change the fact that the country has been unable to produce a top-of-the-line electric vehicle, and demand for what’s on offer has tanked without subsidies. With their revenues barely growing, China’s telecom giants seem reluctant to allocate capital expenditures toward the bold 5G vision. China Mobile Ltd. Chairman Yang Jie said on a March earnings call that capex won’t be expanding much despite the company being at the outset of a three-year peak period for 5G investments. Analysts had expected it to grow by more than 20%, compared to the actual 8.4%.Laying this new foundation for the economy, which includes incorporating artificial intelligence into rail transit and utilities, requires time, not just pledged capital. It’s hard to see the returns any time soon, compared to investments on old infrastructure. These projects are less labor intensive, so there’s no corresponding whack at the post-virus jobless rate that would help demand. State-led firms that could boast big profits from sales of cement and machinery on the back of building projects, for instance, can’t reap money as visibly from being more connected.Spending the old way isn’t paying off like it used to, either. Sectors such as automobiles and materials, big beneficiaries of subsidies and state funding, have seen returns on invested capital fall. The massive push over the years gave China the Shanghai maglev and a vast network of trains and roads. But much debt remains and several of those projects still don’t make money. Add in balance-sheet pressures and spending constraints, and every yuan of credit becomes less effective. There’s also expertise to consider. Technological dominance may require research more than 5G poles. China’s problem with wide-scale innovation remains the same as it has been for years: It always comes from the top down. Beijing has determined and shaped who the players will be. Good examples are the 2006 innovative society plan and Made in China 2025, published in 2015, that intended to transform industries and manufacturing, and have had mixed results.China is unlikely to get the boost from tech spending that it needs to solve present-day problems, especially in the flux of the post-Covid-19 era. Ultimately, the country will just fall back on what it knows best: property, cars, roads and industrial parks. The economy is still run by construction, real estate and manufacturing. Investors should think again before bringing in anything but caution.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Anjani Trivedi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies in Asia. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal. For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The coronavirus has disrupted the world in very large ways. While that battle has been waged, however, another event has almost been missed: the birth of a new kind of fiat currency, which could forever reshape the relationship between money, economic power and geopolitical clout. An official Chinese digital yuan, more than five years in the making, is now in pilot runs to slowly start replacing the physical legal tender. If the experiment succeeds, this new cash, valued the same as the familiar banknotes bearing Mao Zedong’s image, will become the world’s first sovereign token to reside exclusively in the ether.The trials are taking place just as the blame game around the coronavirus deepens mistrust between the U.S. and China. With President Donald Trump warning that Washington would respond if Beijing intervenes against protests and democratic movements in Hong Kong, chances of a detente from last year’s trade war are fading.Outside the People’s Republic, the big question is if the digital yuan is a challenger to the dollar. Within China, though, there’s a more mundane explanation for why Beijing wants to turn banknotes in circulation into virtual tokens. Chinese consumers have bypassed both computers and credit cards to embrace mobile payment apps, which have gone on to spawn large money-market funds investing in high-yielding wealth-management products. This has led to the accumulation of risks in opaque shadow banking. Bringing them out in the open requires a leg up for traditional lenders in payments, an area where financial technology has left them far behind. The digital yuan, which will be pushed out to consumers via banks, seeks to restore this missing balance; it will allow authorities to “regulate an overstretched debt market more effectively,” says DBS Group Holdings Ltd. economist Nathan Chow.Still, there’s also a power play. It isn’t a coincidence that China’s project picked up speed last year as Facebook Inc. announced Libra. The proposed stablecoin promised to hold its value against a basket of major official currencies rather than gyrating wildly like Bitcoin. When it looked like regulators in the U.S. and elsewhere would nix this synthetic global cryptocurrency, the Libra Association curbed the scope of its undertaking. But the idea of “a regulated global network for cost-effective retail payments,” as described by Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings Pte, a new member of Libra’s Geneva-based governing body, remains alive. For Beijing to shake the dollar’s hegemony, it has to pre-empt Silicon Valley from taking the pole position. Hence the hurry for China’s test runs. According to media reports, half the May transport subsidy for Suzhou municipal employees will be in the form of digital currency electronic payment, or DCEP, as it’s being called in the absence of a catchier moniker. The pilot plan in Xiong’an, a satellite city of Beijing, includes coffee shops, fast food, retailers, theaters and bookstores, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has noted. The other trials are reserved for Chengdu and Shenzhen. Thanks to Alipay and WeChat Pay, 80% of Chinese smartphone users whip out their mobiles to make payments, more than anywhere in the world. To them, the DCEP wallets being provided by the big four state banks should seem much the same. But there are differences. In this new system, a low-value transaction can go through even if both parties are offline. Also, this is sovereign liability, safe if an intermediary goes bankrupt. The big four lenders — and later fintech firms — will distribute the tokens, but the funds won’t reside in bank accounts. This will be unlike existing payment apps that only move one institution’s IOUs to another. Beijing was going to launch the digital money even before the pandemic. However, adoption could be faster now because of people’s fear of catching an infection from handling cash. Also, it’s possible to trace in real time whether an anti-virus subsidy, given out in tokenized form, is reaching the target. Once it has, the tracking would be “turned off” to ensure corporate and household spending stays anonymous, Goldman says. Strictly speaking, though, the anonymity of cash will no longer exist. Authorities can look under the hood of pseudonymous transactions for unwanted activity, an outcome far removed from the vision that drove libertarians (and money launderers) to cryptocurrencies in the first place. With the outbreak giving legitimacy to intrusive physical contact tracing, the case for financial tracing gets even stronger. Exchange of digital yuan between customers and merchants will pop up on a centralized ledger, and go through far more swiftly than in Bitcoin-style setups that rely on widely distributed ledgers of asset ownership. Every nation projects power when others desire its money — something that costs the home country nothing to produce. But as with any digital network, the sovereign tokens that take off first could end up winning disproportionately. The digital yuan could find customers overseas, especially in places where China is making belt-and-road investments. For one thing, they wouldn’t have to pay banks fat fees for running the $124 trillion-a-year business-to-business international transfers market.By distributing digital currency through banks, China has given its big institutions a chance to match the payment technology of fintech rivals. But it’s possible that a central bank in another country would bypass intermediaries altogether, potentially making the state the monopoly supplier of money to retail customers. That, as I wrote in December, could upend banking. The digital yuan may have started modestly, but it might pave the way for changes that are both ambitious and long outlast the coronavirus. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Andy Mukherjee is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies and financial services. He previously was a columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He has also worked for the Straits Times, ET NOW and Bloomberg News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Argentina will improve the terms of its offer to restructure $65 billion of overseas bonds after sinking into default when it failed to make an interest payment.Economy Minister Martin Guzman didn’t give any details on his plans in an interview at his office on Friday evening, but he said discussions with creditor groups continue. The latest proposals from bondholders have shrunk the gap between the parties’ positions, he added.The South American nation, burdened by inflation near 50% and a shrinking economy even before the pandemic hit, missed the final deadline for $500 million of interest payments on Friday. The government has said Argentina needs $40 billion in debt relief to set it back on the path to sustainable growth, and officials have been in talks with bondholders for two months.“Our intention is to amend the offer based on the negotiations so that it has a structure compatible with the restrictions we face, as well as bondholders’ preferences and objectives,” Guzman said. “The message we’ve received from bondholders is that they’re interested to continue talks.”Argentina extended the deadline for creditors to consider its debt restructuring offer until June 2. Key bondholders have committed not to sue for immediate repayment on the defaulted debt, allowing talks to continue on friendlier terms, Guzman added.Read More: Argentina’s Stumble to Default Caps Brutal Four-Year DeclineArgentina’s Exchange Bondholder Group said the government invited some of its members as well as representatives from other creditor committees to sign a non-disclosure agreement for further talks.‘Good News’Jorge Arguello, the nation’s ambassador to the U.S., said in a statement late Saturday that formal negotiations are ongoing.“I understand there is still an important distance to cover but they clearly are on a positive course,” he wrote. “The good news is that all sides are at the table trying to find a solution.”Argentina has demanded a three-year moratorium on payments, sharp cuts to interest rates and a reduction in the principal owed. People familiar with the matter said earlier this week that there was a gap of about 20 cents on the dollar between what the government was offering and what creditors want.The government remains flexible on the specifics of the deal and could use sweeteners to make it more appealing to creditors, according to Guzman.“There’s flexibility on the combination of parameters,” he said. “While the counteroffers we received last week are closer than the first ones we received, they’re still far from what Argentina can sustain.”Bonds were little changed Friday, with most securities trading between 30 and 40 cents on the dollar, as investors had largely anticipated that Argentina wouldn’t make the overdue interest payments. The notes had rallied from record lows in recent weeks amid some optimism an accord can be reached in coming days and weeks.Investors are resigned to a certain amount of losses, and the government has tried to keep things friendly by avoiding rhetoric that demonized creditors, a hallmark of the country’s battles with hedge funds after its 2001 default.Argentina’s default at the turn of the century led to 15 years of costly court battles with creditors. It’s unlikely we’ll see a repeat of that, according to Alberto Ramos, the head of Latin American economics at Goldman Sachs Research.“Given all these signals that all these things seem to be progressing, I don’t think anyone will litigate immediately,” Ramos said. “There will be an understanding with bondholders and life goes on.”(Updates with statement from Argentina’s ambassador beginning in seventh paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Voodoo SAS’s backers have kicked off the sale of a stake in the French mobile game developer, people with knowledge of the matter said.Marketing materials with an overview of the business have been sent to potential buyers, the people said, asking not to be identified as the information is private. The sellers are seeking indicative bids by early June, according to the people. A deal could value Voodoo at more than 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion), one of the people said.The decision to push ahead with the sale comes at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is keeping more people indoors and on their phones. That is helping to shield the mobile gaming industry from the virus’s broader economic impact, which is slowing dealmaking in other sectors.Voodoo is majority owned by its co-founders Alexandre Yazdi and Laurent Ritter. In 2018, they sold a stake in the business to a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. private equity fund called West Street Capital Partners VII.The company’s shareholders have been gauging interest from potential investors including rival game developers Ubisoft Entertainment SA and Zynga Inc., Bloomberg News reported in April. The process is at an early stage, and there’s no certainty the deliberations will lead to a transaction, the people said.A representative for Goldman Sachs declined to comment. An official at Voodoo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.Voodoo, which was started in 2013, makes easy-to-play games including “Helix Jump,” “Roller Splat” and “Snake VS Block.” Many are free to download with optional in-game purchases. The company’s games have more than 300 million monthly active users and have generated in excess of 2 billion downloads, according to its website.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Jack Ma’s Ant Group generated about $2 billion of profit in the December quarter, underpinned by its push to help Chinese lenders dole out money to the country’s under-banked consumers.The finance giant generated about $721 million in profit for Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. during the period, according to the e-commerce giant’s earnings filing. Based on Alibaba’s 33% equity share, that would roughly translate to $2 billion in profit for Ant. A representative for Ant declined to comment.Ant is now valued at about $150 billion, more than Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley combined. The company entered the banking arena as a disruptor, raising alarm bells for many of the nation’s 4,500 lenders. But about two years ago, it flipped the idea on its head, and began turning China’s lenders into clients by helping them provide loans and selling them cloud computing power.Ant’s sprawling network of more than 900 million active users means it can help China’s state-back lenders reach consumers in smaller cities that want credit. Outstanding consumer loans issued through Ant may swell to nearly 2 trillion yuan by 2021 according to Goldman Sachs analysts, more than triple the level two years ago, Bloomberg has reported.Ant has aspirations to go public, though it hasn’t decided on a timeline or listing destination.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- The Chinese government abandoned its decades-long practice of setting an annual target for economic growth amid the storm of uncertainty unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, and said it would continue to increase stimulus.Speaking Friday morning at the National People’s Congress in Beijing, Premier Li Keqiang delivered an annual policy address that laid out a renewed focus on maintaining employment and investment. Against a backdrop of escalating tensions with the U.S., Li said Beijing remains committed to implementing the terms of the ‘phase one’ trade deal.With more than $500 billion in infrastructure bonds to be issued this year and more monetary easing on the horizon, China is trying to cement a fragile domestic recovery without indulging in the kind of debt blowouts seen in the U.S. and Europe. The world’s largest exporter is therefore still reliant on other countries reining in the pandemic and on a reboot of global trade.“We have not set a specific target for economic growth this year,” Li said, speaking in the Great Hall of the People. “This is because our country will face some factors that are difficult to predict in its development due to the great uncertainty regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and the world economic and trade environment.”Shifting away from a hard target for output growth breaks with decades of Communist Party planning habits and is an admission of the deep rupture the pandemic has caused. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect China’s economy to expand just 1.8% this year, its worst performance since the 1970s.At the same time, Li gave a precise figure for the targeted budget deficit, widening it to more than 3.6% of gross domestic product. Including the issuance of special bonds, that brings a broader measure of the deficit to more than 8%, according to Bloomberg Economics.Analysts including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist Yu Song said the package was less aggressive than expected. Market sentiment was overshadowed by the announcement Friday that Beijing would impose national security legislation on Hong Kong, risking further confrontation with the U.S.The CSI 300 Index fell 2.3% on Friday, its worst reaction to the opening of the country’s annual National People’s Congress since the stock benchmark started in 2005.What Bloomberg’s Economists Say...“Setting a target in such an uncertain economic environment would have been risky. Abandoning the decades-long tradition relieves the government of the straitjacket the annual target placed on economic policy. The challenge now will be to effectively guide expectations in the absence of the GDP target.”Chang Shu and David Qu, Bloomberg EconomicsFor the full note click hereLi said the government is setting a target for urban job creation of more than 9 million jobs, lower than the 2019 target of around 11 million, and a target for the urban surveyed unemployment rate of around 6%, higher than 2019’s goal, according to the document.The government’s official measures don’t capture the full extent of unemployment caused by the pandemic, which has hit both manufacturing and services hard. With jobs and income growth vital for the unelected Communist Party’s political legitimacy, stabilizing employment has become Li’s first priority.“We will make every effort to stabilize and expand employment,” Li said. “We will strive to keep existing jobs secure, work actively to create new ones, and help unemployed people find work.”Reflecting recent controversy over the ‘phase one’ trade deal with the U.S. signed earlier this year, before the pandemic broke out, Li said China will work with the U.S. to implement the agreement.The wider budget deficit target implies a significantly larger shortfall than 2019’s target of 2.8%. Greater spending on efforts to restart the economy and control the spread of coronavirus will be funded by issuing 1 trillion yuan ($140 billion) in sovereign debt.To help finance infrastructure investment, local governments will issue 3.75 trillion yuan in local special bonds this year, up from 2019’s quota of 2.15 trillion. Economists had forecast issuance of as much as 4 trillion yuan.The government’s language on monetary policy was kept basically unchanged, with the stance remaining “prudent,” as well as “flexible” and “appropriate.” The English-language report said new monetary policy tools would be developed to “directly stimulate the real economy.”“It is crucial that we take steps to ensure enterprises can secure loans more easily and promote steady reduction of interest rates,” according to the report. Li added that money supply will be guided “significantly” higher this year and that reserve ratios and interest rates will continue to be cut.Key leaders sat in two rows behind Li’s podium, well spaced and without face masks. Officials behind were more closely packed and wearing masks, as were the hundreds listening in the hall. The Congress represents the centerpiece of China’s political calendar, though it has a rubber-stamp role. The meeting was delayed more than two months by the virus shutdowns.Li detailed measures including continued implementation of VAT cuts, and a further 500 billion yuan in tax and fee reductions. The target for consumer price inflation was set at 3.5%, higher than the usual ceiling and a reflection of continued high food-price gains.Analysts said that while more stimulus was announced, the government’s ambitions for growth remain limited given the dangers of another run up in debt. China borrowed heavily to stabilize the economy after the 2008 crisis, and is taking a markedly different tack this time. At the same time, rising unemployment may force the government’s hand.“I think the central government would like local governments to play a much more active role in relieving domestic unemployment and boosting domestic consumption,” Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University, said Friday on Bloomberg Television. “The problem is, local governments are indebted up to their eyebrows. There’s really not much room for them significantly to increase debt.”(Updates markets in eighth paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Tencent Holdings Ltd.-backed Missfresh is on the verge of closing $500 million of new financing to quicken expansion after the Covid-19 outbreak bolstered demand for fresh groceries, people familiar with the matter said.Beijing Missfresh Ecommerce Co., which counts Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Tiger Global Management among its backers, recently wrapped up the second tranche of a funding round that will raise a total of about $300 million and another 1 billion to 1.5 billion yuan ($211 million) of Chinese currency funding, the people said, requesting not to be named because the matter is private. A third and final tranche will be completed soon but the financing has so far valued the grocery delivery startup at about $3 billion before investment, the people said.A company representative declined to comment.Missfresh -- one of a clutch of startups Tencent backed during China’s internet boom -- is competing in a cash-burning sector with deeper-pocketed corporations including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Consumers sheltering at home during the Covid-19 pandemic have reinvigorated the once-difficult online groceries arena, and Missfresh now needs ammunition to attack a Chinese online fresh foods sector that could reach $178 billion by 2025.The company, founded in 2014, has more than 1,500 mini-warehouses that promise deliveries as fast as within an hour, it said in a statement in July. Missfresh had nearly 25 million monthly active users as of May last year. It handled 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) of transactions in 2018 and had generated positive cash flow by the end of that year, the company said at the time.The funding will help tide Missfresh over during tough times in the venture capital market. VC funding plummeted at the start of 2020 with investors stranded at home and increasingly risk-averse. Excluding the latest effort, the Beijing-based startup has raised nearly $900 million via eight funding rounds from investors including Jeneration Group and Genesis Capital, the company has said.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Oil posted its longest streak of gains in more than a year, buoyed by output cuts across the globe that have whittled away at a stubborn supply glut.Futures climbed 1.3% in New York. U.S. supply data showed crude inventories fell for a second week after climbing steadily since January and stockpiles at the storage hub at Cushing, Oklahoma declined by a record. OPEC and its allies are reducing output and IHS Markit Ltd. says U.S. oil producers are also curtailing about 1.75 million barrels a day of existing production by early June.“There is a lot of narrative out there that the rebalancing is going to come quicker and will be more aggressive than we thought,” said Bart Melek, head of commodity strategy at Toronto Dominion Bank.Oil’s rally this month into the $30-a-barrel range raises the possibility that shale producers may slowly start to turn on the taps again after futures plunged into negative territory in April, leading to layoffs across the energy industry, a slowdown in drilling and deep declines in the number of oil rigs in operation. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said U.S. shale will emerge from the current slump as a lower growth and more cash generative industry, while consolidation will concentrate the number of players in the sector.While the large decline in stockpiles at Cushing, the delivery point for WTI futures, indicates the supply glut is starting to ease, a surprise increase in U.S. gasoline inventories last week reflects underlying demand weakness in the world’s largest economy. The economic outlook remains uncertain with another 2.44 million Americans filing for unemployment last week, Labor Department figures showed.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- In early March, before the coronavirus pandemic triggered a global economic lockdown, SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son paid tribute to Rajeev Misra, the man who runs his $100 billion technology investment fund. Wearing a $70 Uniqlo down jacket, the Japanese billionaire put his arm around Misra’s shoulders at a town hall meeting in San Carlos, California. He said he would never forget the help Misra provided when he was at Deutsche Bank AG more than a decade earlier and spoke of the trust and respect they had developed since, according to a summary shared internally. “We are family,” Son said. But behind the smiles and talk of kinship, another story is unfolding, one about the perplexing relationship at the top of SoftBank. The Vision Fund this week reported a loss for the latest fiscal year of $17.7 billion as it wrote down the value of portfolio companies including WeWork and Uber Technologies Inc. That triggered the biggest loss in SoftBank’s 39-year history. Its shares have been hammered as investors fret that the virus will batter the company’s holdings even more, and Son has said he will sell $42 billion in assets.Misra is at the heart of the problem in ways that go beyond how the fund’s companies are performing, people familiar with the matter say. He has come under fire for alleged efforts to tarnish internal rivals, including a previously undisclosed clash with SoftBank Chief Operating Officer Marcelo Claure. The company has acknowledged that it’s conducting an internal review. At the same time, Elliott Management Corp., the activist investment fund that built up an almost $3 billion stake in the company, has asked SoftBank to name three independent directors and create a new board committee to improve the Vision Fund’s investment process, according to correspondence reviewed by Bloomberg News.“Misra and Masa go back a long way, but gratitude should only last so long,” said Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners in Singapore. “If Misra is not the problem, he’s at least a big part of it.”The corporate intrigue involving Claure began in 2018, when the Bolivian entrepreneur was under consideration to join the Vision Fund’s board and investment committee, according to six people with first-hand knowledge of the matter and a review of emails and documents. The fund — run by Misra as an affiliate of the Japanese company — hired a Swiss firm called Heptagone to conduct a background check on Claure’s possible ties to money laundering and drug cartels, said the people, who asked for anonymity because they feared retaliation. The report cleared him, but its focus opened a rift between the two men that kept Claure off the fund’s board and solidified Misra’s control, the people said.A Vision Fund spokesman said one of the fund’s limited partners, not Misra, requested the background check and Misra wasn’t involved in determining its focus. SoftBank has been told the same thing and doesn’t have evidence otherwise, people familiar with the matter say. But current and former executives across the SoftBank empire remain convinced that Misra played a role since the report was commissioned by his team and follows a pattern of similar accusations about undermining internal rivals. In March, days after the Wall Street Journal reported that Misra had allegedly orchestrated a campaign to sabotage two former SoftBank executives beginning in 2015, Son ducked questions about the story from investors at a meeting at the Lotte New York Palace hotel, according to two people who were present. One of them, a SoftBank shareholder, told Bloomberg News afterward that the company needs a Vision Fund leader more focused on tight operations than turf battles. Son has remained steadfast in his support. “Rajeev has been instrumental in the company’s growth and success,” Son said in a statement to Bloomberg. “He’s also been a very trusted senior executive and friend, and will continue to have my full support and confidence.” The Vision Fund spokesman denied that Misra was involved in any campaigns to undermine company executives. “The claims underpinning this story are untrue, and have been fully denied,” he said.But some SoftBank insiders are wondering how Misra has managed to survive. It may be, they said, that Son needs his financial expertise to navigate the next few months of asset sales, share buybacks and loan repayments as the coronavirus weakens portfolio companies, hurting SoftBank’s ability to borrow. Misra helped Son finance difficult deals before joining the company in 2014 and played a crucial role in raising capital for the Vision Fund. He has also established his own power base at the fund’s London headquarters, surrounded by a coterie of former Deutsche Bank colleagues.Still, there are long-term risks for Son in tolerating what many see as a divisive culture and chaotic infighting that have plagued the Vision Fund since its inception. “Misra personifies what Vision Fund is about — a bunch of dealmakers obsessed with leverage who have no business running a venture capital fund,” said Amir Anvarzadeh, a market strategist at Asymmetric Advisors in Singapore, who has been covering the company since it went public in 1994. “But it would be naïve to put all of their problems at Misra’s feet. Son has the ultimate word.” Son and Misra share a bond as outsiders who left their native lands to study abroad and ended up finding wealth and prestige. Son, 62, went to the University of California, Berkeley and launched businesses in the U.S. before founding SoftBank in Japan in 1981. Misra, 58 and born in India, earned degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before embarking on a career in banking at Merrill Lynch.But while Son never worked for anyone else, Misra always operated within large organizations, navigating their power structures. He moved to Deutsche Bank in 1997, where he eventually became global head of credit trading, turning it into one of the biggest traders of credit-default swaps — instruments at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis. One of his traders, Greg Lippmann, featured in Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, bet on a crash in the U.S. housing market, even as Deutsche Bank was a leading player in creating and selling mortgage-backed securities to investors. With slicked-back hair and a thicket of woven bracelets around his wrist, Misra speaks with an intimacy that suggests he’s confiding in a listener as he races from one subject to the next with a burning urgency. He wears his eccentricities proudly: He often padded around the office in stockinged feet, incessantly smoking, vaping or chewing nicotine gum.Misra joined SoftBank after stints at UBS Group AG and Fortress Investment Group. He started as head of strategic finance, reporting directly to Son, but his connections to the boss preceded his appointment. In 2006, Deutsche Bank helped SoftBank finance the acquisition of the Japanese wireless operations of Vodafone Group Plc, one of the most consequential deals of Son’s career. The $15 billion purchase was the largest leveraged buyout ever in Asia at the time and faced skepticism because Vodafone had struggled against the country’s top wireless players. Son succeeded in turning the business into a viable competitor, in part by persuading Steve Jobs to give him exclusive rights to the iPhone in Japan, and completing SoftBank’s transformation from software distributor to telecom conglomerate.Misra proved his worth at SoftBank as well. Son had acquired the troubled No. 3 wireless operator in the U.S., Sprint Corp., but the turnaround had proven far more difficult than the one at Vodafone. Misra put together a novel loan package secured by Sprint’s wireless licenses that helped it avoid bankruptcy.From the start, Misra clashed with Nikesh Arora, a hotshot former Google executive Son recruited in 2014 to oversee SoftBank’s startup investing, according to people with direct knowledge of their relationship. Arora would openly question Misra’s judgment, even on financial issues, leaving him fuming, the people said.In early 2015, Misra set out to undermine Arora and one of his allies at SoftBank, Alok Sama, the Wall Street Journal reported in February. The newspaper said Misra worked through intermediaries to plant negative stories about the executives, concocted a shareholder campaign against them and attempted unsuccessfully to lure Arora into a sexual tryst. “These are old allegations which contain a series of falsehoods that have been consistently denied,” a spokesman for Misra told Bloomberg News, adding that Misra thinks highly of Arora and that the two men worked together productively on many deals. “Mr. Misra did not orchestrate a campaign against his former colleagues.” A spokesman for the Wall Street Journal said the paper stands by its reporting.Arora was cleared of wrongdoing by SoftBank, but he left in 2016 and is now chief executive officer of Palo Alto Networks Inc. Sama, who had been in charge of SoftBank’s investments and inked many of its early startup deals, seemed a logical candidate to play a leading role at the Vision Fund. But some of the limited partners expressed reservations about him, people familiar with the matter said. Arora didn’t respond to requests for comment, and an attorney for Sama declined to comment.Meanwhile, Misra solidified his ties to Son. He spent time in Tokyo in early 2017 as Son worked on the acquisition of Fortress. He also used his former Deutsche Bank connections to help close a deal for Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to become the Vision Fund’s cornerstone investor, chipping in $45 billion, almost half of the capital. That May, Misra was named head of the Vision Fund. The clash with Claure began after Sama was sidelined, according to SoftBank executives familiar with the matter. Son hit it off with Claure in 2013, when SoftBank took a majority stake in Brightstar, a Miami-based mobile phone distributor he founded that became one of Latin America’s fastest-growing startups. The 6-foot-6 executive quickly demonstrated how SoftBank could save millions on its purchases, winning respect from his new boss. A year later, Son tapped him to replace Sprint’s CEO. Claure made enough progress fixing the wireless operator that Son rewarded him with a seat on SoftBank’s board in 2017 and named him chief operating officer the following year. Then, Son gave Claure a new challenge: building teams in government affairs, legal services and operations to support the company’s expanding portfolio. Part of the mission was to assemble and lead a task force that would help startups fine-tune their strategies to improve execution and speed their path to profitability. The mandate would place him at the center of the action as SoftBank transformed itself into a technology investment conglomerate. It also apparently put Claure on a collision course with Misra.The first hint that this might not be a typical corporate rivalry came months before the Heptagone investigation, according to a person close to Claure. In the summer of 2018, Stephen Bye, a former Sprint executive, reached out to Claure with unsettling news. Bye, Sprint’s chief technology officer until 2015, was approached by a private investigator trying to dig up dirt on his former boss, the person said. Bye declined to talk to the investigator and immediately called Claure. Claure, 49, was used to people poking into his past because he was often approached about joining corporate boards. But he had also heard speculation about Misra’s role in the campaigns against Arora and Sama, and he expressed concern that he was next, the person said. The Vision Fund spokesman said neither Misra nor anyone else from the fund was involved in the approach to Claure’s former employee. Bye declined to comment.In October 2018, after the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents, Son and Misra traveled to Riyadh to meet with officials of the sovereign wealth fund, their biggest investor. They made the trip during the Saudi fund’s annual investment conference, even as other global executives canceled their travel plans. While the two men didn’t attend the conference, Son met with the head of the Public Investment Fund, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, and laid out the new role he envisioned for Claure. He would join the Vision Fund board and its investment committee, and manage the group of operations specialists when it was embedded within the fund, according to a proposal reviewed by Bloomberg News. The changes, if implemented, would give Claure broad authority at the fund.Later that year the Vision Fund commissioned the Heptagone report. What made it different from routine due diligence, according to the people directly involved, was that the sleuths were asked to answer three specific questions: Was Claure or any company under his control ever involved in money laundering, tax evasion or fraud? Was he ever in a relationship with individuals charged with or convicted of money laundering, drug trafficking or other crimes? Had he been convicted of a crime in the U.S. or elsewhere? Claure’s company, Brightstar, generated enormous amounts of cash selling used phones in Latin America in the 1990s, exactly the kind of business that could be used for money laundering, Heptagone’s report said. But the report found no evidence Brightstar or Claure were involved in such activities, people who saw it said.Heptagone went on to say that Claure had a long-standing friendship with Carlos Becerra, a San Diego businessman whose name had appeared in U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reports for possible involvement in cocaine distribution and money laundering. After Becerra sold a unit of his company to Brightstar, in 2007, the two men remained friendly. A photo on Becerra’s Instagram account from June 2015 showed him posing on a boat dock with Claure. Becerra, who hadn’t been charged with a drug-related crime, told Bloomberg News that his relationship with Claure was cordial, not close. He denied any involvement in money laundering or drug dealing and said he has held a California liquor license since 2001, which requires a background check and isn’t available to anyone with a criminal record. The closest Claure came to a crime, the Heptagone report found, was his involvement in a Miami bar fight in the 1990s in which no one was hurt and he wasn’t charged. Heptagone co-founder and managing partner Alexis Pfefferlé said he couldn’t confirm or deny his firm’s involvement in any report but added that Heptagone “has always been able to fully complete its assignments.”The Vision Fund spokesman said the fund often runs background checks on employees, so it wasn’t abnormal to conduct one on Claure, given his potential involvement in operations. The only thing atypical, he said, was that it came at the request of a limited partner. While the Heptagone report cleared Claure, its underlying premise appeared to be that a Latin American entrepreneur must have built his business through unsavory means, according to the people who reviewed the document. Claure was furious. He went to Son, outraged at what he saw as an attempt to damage his reputation, the people said. SoftBank took over the due diligence from the Vision Fund and gave the job to Kroll, a more established security firm, the people said. Kroll, which declined to comment, found no problems in Claure’s past. But suspicious that Misra was behind the campaign, Claure told Son he wanted no formal part of the Vision Fund, the people said. Son ultimately decided to keep the two out of each other’s way. In February 2019, about 40 employees Claure had hired were shifted over to work for Misra. Claure, who had moved his wife and four youngest daughters to Tokyo less than two months earlier, headed back to Miami. He has since helped close Sprint’s merger with T-Mobile US Inc. and is leading the effort to turn around WeWork. He also oversees a Latin American investment fund for SoftBank and co-owns a Major League Soccer team, Inter Miami, with former British star David Beckham. SoftBank denied that Claure and Misra clashed over the operations group and said both men agreed that folding it into the Vision Fund was in the best interests of the business. “While we have had our occasional differences,” Claure said in a statement, “I have a close and collaborative relationship with Rajeev, including my involvement with many of the Vision Fund’s largest portfolio companies.” The relationships Misra forged at Deutsche Bank continue to underpin his power and influence. Colin Fan, a former co-head of the investment bank, moved to SoftBank in 2017, joining more than half a dozen former bankers and traders from the German lender. But arguably the most important connection forged at Deutsche Bank is Misra’s relationship with London-based merchant bank Centricus, founded by three former Misra colleagues: Michele Faissola, Dalinc Ariburnu and Nizar Al-Bassam. The firm, originally called FAB Partners for the principals’ last names, began working with SoftBank in 2016, when Misra asked it to help find financing for the Vision Fund. Centricus advised on the creation and structure of the fund, suggested employees and helped cement the investment by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund — a deal hashed out in October of that year when Mohammed bin Salman, then the country’s deputy crown prince, met with Son in Tokyo.For its work, Centricus negotiated a payment of more than $100 million, people familiar with the arrangement said. And the fees kept coming. Centricus advised SoftBank on its $3.3 billion deal for Fortress and teamed up with Son on a failed bid to start a 24-team soccer tournament with FIFA. The firm also was brought in to help raise capital for a second Vision Fund, Bloomberg reported in mid-2019.Some SoftBank and Vision Fund executives have questioned the amount paid to Centricus, the people with knowledge of the arrangement said. Although fees for helping companies raise capital are often about 1%, making the sum paid to Centricus a good deal for SoftBank, executives critical of Misra’s leadership were piqued that the recipients were former Deutsche Bank colleagues, the people said. Centricus and SoftBank both declined to comment about fees or any other aspect of their relationship.Faissola left the firm after his connections with the Qatari government created tension with the Saudis. But Centricus hired another former Deutsche Bank colleague of Misra’s as a consultant: London-based hedge fund manager Bertrand Des Pallieres, a senior trader at the bank from 2005 to 2007 who reported directly to Misra. Des Pallieres was under consideration for a job at the Vision Fund in 2018, the people said, but that all changed after the Wall Street Journal reported that Misra had recruited Italian businessman Alessandro Benedetti to undermine Arora and Sama. Benedetti, who denied through a spokesman that he had anything to do with those efforts, was a business associate of Des Pallieres. A year later, Des Pallieres became a Centricus consultant.SoftBank’s relationship with Centricus began fraying last year, according to people familiar with the matter. Misra argued that SoftBank had no further need for the firm, as Son had developed ties of his own with MBS, the people said. And Misra had his own relationship with Al-Rumayyan, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund head. In October 2019, Misra and Son attended a party for Al-Rumayyan and MBS on a yacht in the Red Sea, people with knowledge of the event said, confirming a Wall Street Journal account.By then, SoftBank had hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Cantor Fitzgerald LP to help search for new investors. Some SoftBank executives were surprised by Cantor’s involvement, as the New York-based bank had little experience sourcing investments for initiatives like the Vision Fund. But Cantor’s president since 2017 has been former Deutsche Bank co-CEO Anshu Jain, a onetime boss and childhood friend of Misra’s.The Saudis have held off committing capital to a second Vision Fund, and Son this week said he had to stop raising money because of difficulties with WeWork and other investments. SoftBank stepped in to save WeWork last year after its failed initial public offering and put Claure in charge of turning the business around. But the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the challenges of drawing people to co-working spaces.“Vision Fund’s results are not something to be proud of,” Son said at somber press conference in Tokyo on Monday, with reporters and analysts calling in remotely because of the pandemic. “If the results are bad, you can’t raise money from investors.”Elliott, the fund run by billionaire Paul Singer, has pressed for changes, and Misra has been involved in those talks, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. He has met frequently with Singer’s son Gordon, the people said. But two people familiar with Elliott’s operations say the firm has asked SoftBank to get to the bottom of Misra’s alleged involvement in campaigns against his colleagues and has expressed dismay at the infighting among top managers and how much of that spills into the press. A spokeswoman for Elliott denies that the company is pushing for an investigation, and a SoftBank spokesman said Son hasn’t received such a request.SoftBank’s board probed who was behind the campaigns against Arora and Sama but didn’t uncover any definitive evidence, people with knowledge of the matter said. While the company has said it’s looking into the most recent Wall Street Journal allegations, several senior executives have downplayed their significance. Ron Fisher, a SoftBank director, called the February story “another example of people anonymously spreading misinformation and innuendo about our executives,” according to an email to Vision Fund managing partners.SoftBank's board has lost several of its most independent voices in recent years, the kind of directors who could question his decisions. Shigenobu Nagamori, the outspoken founder of motor maker Nidec Corp., stepped down in 2017. Fast Retailing Co. CEO Tadashi Yanai, who had been on the board since 2001 and was a rare voice of dissent, left at the end of 2019. On the same day SoftBank announced its record losses this week, Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma announced he would leave the board too, after 13 years. Two new independent directors were nominated — Cadence Design Systems Inc. CEO Lip-Bu Tan and Waseda University professor Yuko Kawamoto.Misra’s fate is ultimately intertwined with the Vision Fund, which Son once declared would be the foundation of a new SoftBank but now risks becoming one of his worst missteps. The fund declared quarter after quarter of profit after its inception in 2017, as it marked up the value of startups and booked paper profits. But since the WeWork fiasco, it has lost all of that money and more. The structure of the fund — Misra’s invention — will create another squeeze. About $40 billion of the money raised from outside investors is in the form of preferred shares that pay about 7% a year. The idea is that SoftBank would see extra profits if the Vision Fund hit it big, but it also means losses are amplified. Venture capital funds typically don’t have such liabilities to avoid the risks of such a volatile business. Misra has been on something of a publicity tour recently to defend his reputation, although he declined to comment for this story. In an interview with CNBC published in March, he said that the Vision Fund’s mistakes are surfacing early and its portfolio will be redeemed in 18 to 24 months. “I’m so, so positive I’ll prove people wrong,” he said. He also vowed he wouldn’t leave the fund. “I owe it to my stakeholders, my LPs, my employees to be here for the journey,” he said. The Vision Fund spokesman denied Misra said the portfolio would recover that quickly. In the end, what SoftBank decides to do about Misra, if anything, depends on Son. His business is under intense pressure, putting even his deepest loyalties to the test. “At a company like SoftBank, where the founder runs the business, that person has to take responsibility for the ethics and the standards for behavior within the company,” said Parissa Haghirian, a professor of international management at Sophia University in Tokyo who specializes in Japanese corporate culture. “If you are not clear about this, then everybody sets their own rules.” For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- When Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced a stimulus package for India, he said it was worth Rs. 20 trillion — $265 billion, equivalent to about 10% of the country’s GDP. This seemed to fit in with the amounts being spent by some rich OECD economies to deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Equity markets exulted.In Modi’s India, though, it’s usually wise to wait for the details. Now that they’re out, the markets — and many economists — are disappointed. Actual spending is a fraction of what Modi promised, they argue — perhaps as little as 1% of GDP. Once equity traders added up the package’s components, the markets duly sank back into gloom.In fact, Modi and his advisers have gotten it right, and governments around the world could learn from their caution. While India’s fast-growing economy faces an unprecedented slowdown thanks to the pandemic — shrinking as much as 45% annualized in the second quarter of 2020, according to Goldman Sachs — spending on everything in sight isn’t the best solution.India’s policymakers found the correct prescription because they began with the proper diagnosis. A bigger stimulus would have been the right way to address a crisis in aggregate demand. But that’s not India’s problem: Until we figure out the best way to reopen, the country needs less economic activity not more. The real issue is the lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.Instead of wasting money it doesn’t have, the government has tried to address the problem we do have. Government spending works if no other event, policy or signal can address the coordination problems that underlie a collapse in aggregate demand. In this case, we know there is such a signal: an end to the current emergency. In the interim, what the government needs to do is figure out how to preserve those things that would allow the economy to respond to that signal — lives, businesses and contracts.Yes, that can cost money and governments are the spenders of last resort. But even more important than the government’s ability to pay is its ability to absorb risk and provide liquidity. India’s rescue package is structured around precisely these strengths. It includes the promise, for example, of roughly $40 billion in collateral-free loans to small businesses that would be completely guaranteed by the government.We can quibble over the details — it’s a mistake to limit such loans to existing borrowers, for instance, when lots of smaller businesses may want to borrow for the first time — but you can see the government’s rationale. People who believe their business will recover can take on a loan for payments that they have to make; banks will be happy to cover them, since they’re being underwritten by the government. Instead of the government figuring out who to pay to reopen the economy, banks and businesses will make the decision. While we’ll have to see how it works in practice – any delays in the rollout and the whole thing will fall apart — the idea is sound.Thanks to this focus on liquidity support and risk underwriting instead of across-the-board spending, India’s debt might remain under control instead of exploding. Most importantly, Modi’s government has not been foolish enough to reverse decades of painful institutional reform and demand the central bank start monetizing its debt. That would have spelled the death knell for India as a mature economy — and sent borrowing rates for everyone through the roof. If some economists are furious, that’s because economists, like generals, are always battling the last crisis. India’s government learned from it instead, according to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman: After the 2008 financial crisis, the government “just opened the floodgates and kept it open for a long time. At the end of the day, you had [the 2013] taper tantrum, double-digit inflation and food inflation hitting the roof.”Caution is wise. Unlike many of their global peers, India’s policymakers seem to recognize that, faced with an unprecedented emergency, their primary responsibility is to keep things stable until it is clear how best to intervene. It’s not to dissolve one institutional constraint after another on the pretext of fighting this crisis.Modi’s economic record has been far from exceptional, so how has his government proven so astute at this moment? Perhaps it’s because the prime minister himself is something of a fiscal hawk. Or perhaps fears that India might be downgraded concentrated minds in New Delhi. Had ratings agencies downgraded India, there would have been no chance of borrowing enough to provide stimulus when it might actually be needed — whether six, 12 or 18 months from now.And, yes, more spending will probably be required. If this emergency lasts long enough, India’s poor will need direct cash transfers, for example. Let’s hope that income support, when it comes, is as cautiously designed. For now, look to Modi’s India as a global example, not a disappointment.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Mihir Sharma is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He was a columnist for the Indian Express and the Business Standard, and he is the author of “Restart: The Last Chance for the Indian Economy.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.