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Moody’s Revises Up SoftBank Outlook to Stable After Arm IPO

(Bloomberg) -- Moody’s Investors Service revised up its outlook on SoftBank Group Corp. to stable from negative, saying the listing of chip unit Arm Holdings Plc brings transparency to a bigger chunk of the tech investor’s portfolio, which includes hundreds of startups.

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Credit ratings firms have cited SoftBank’s exposure to private market valuations as an ongoing risk. SoftBank’s portfolio, which includes bets of billions of dollars in bankrupt WeWork Inc. and hundreds of unprofitable and unlisted startups, remains largely opaque, with pricing often determined by a handful of private equity firms.

But Arm’s September initial public offering lifts the proportion of SoftBank’s listed assets, Moody’s said in a report Monday. Along with telecom unit SoftBank Corp. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., SoftBank’s listed assets now make up more than 60% of its total portfolio value, it said.

The rating of Ba3 “is also supported by its good liquidity at the holding company level, which can cover scheduled debt maturities over the next five years,” the agency said. But the “rating is constrained by its low interest coverage and reliance on dividends.”

SoftBank, which floated a little less than 10% of Arm shares in the IPO, had ¥6.7 trillion ($45 billion) in cash and cash equivalents as of end-September. That cash pile’s prompted a flurry of new investments by SoftBank’s billionaire founder Masayoshi Son, as well as talks with OpenAI’s ousted co-founder Sam Altman about helping to fund a possible chip startup.

Altman Sought Billions For Chip Venture Before OpenAI Ouster

SoftBank and Moody’s have clashed over the US assessor’s ratings in recent years, and on Monday the Japanese firm reiterated its call for them to be dropped.

“Moody’s should immediately cease the publication of unsolicited credit rating about SBG that do not reflect the company’s actual situation,” it said.

Moody’s said it will consider a downgrade if new investments deplete the holding company’s cash on hand so that it can no longer cover two years of scheduled debt maturities, or if the company’s total debt increases.

Rising interest rates make it imperative for the Japanese firm to avoid a deeper ratings slip into junk territory, with former banker and Chief Financial Officer Yoshimitsu Goto publicly protesting downward revisions by agencies in the past.

“A significant increase in new investments into emerging startups with untested business models or speculative opportunities could add to downward pressure if they lead to an erosion in its liquidity or the asset quality of its investment portfolio,” Moody’s said. “Downgrade pressure will also arise if material legal or other contingent obligations crystallize or governance risks rise further.”

Standard & Poor’s in September also revised its outlook on SoftBank to “positive” after Arm’s IPO.

(Writes through, adds fresh quote in fourth paragraph, SoftBank’s comment in seventh)

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