What do you call a visionary who fails to act on their own vision? Masayoshi Son. The SoftBank chief was a prominent advocate for artificial intelligence for at least the past six years, long before OpenAI’s ChatGPT woke the world to AI’s potential. But lately, as everyone and their dog rushes to put money into AI startups, SoftBank has been largely absent from the investment scene. Burned by last year’s market collapse, and having blown billions in recent years on a wide range of companies without an artificial intelligence angle (and sometimes, as in the case of WeWork, without much human intelligence either), the company lately has been conserving cash to strengthen its balance sheet.
SoftBank’s Vision Funds One and Two invested just $400 million in the March quarter, the company revealed today, bringing the total of new investment spending for its fiscal year ending in March to $3.1 billion. In fiscal 2021, by comparison, when valuations were at their peak, SoftBank invested $44 billion. That’s what you call market timing! The good news is that SoftBank’s balance sheet is healthier than it was a year ago. The company has about $33 billion in cash, more than enough “to cover two years of bond redemptions,” said Chief Financial Officer Yoshimitsu Goto in a video presentation released as part of the company’s latest quarterly earnings update. The company is now ready to deal with “further financial stress in the market,” he said, and has the cash to “play offense,” with its “main focus area” now generative AI. Seems a little late!