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Now Seen as an AI Stock, SoftBank Is Set for Its Best Week in Three Years

(Bloomberg) -- SoftBank Group Corp. notched its best weekly gain since March 2020 as analysts and investors become more bullish on its potential as an artificial intelligence stock.

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The shares rose 4.3% Friday, taking its gain for the week to almost 17%. Jefferies provided the latest spark, upgrading SoftBank to buy from hold, saying it is a “likely beneficiary” of the recent frenzy in AI stocks following Nvidia Corp.’s bullish sales forecast last month.

Investor enthusiasm for all things AI in the wake of ChatGPT’s launch late last year has driven huge gains in related shares globally. Nvidia earlier this week became the first chipmaker to reach a $1 trillion market valuation.

SoftBank plans to list its Arm Ltd. chip-design unit on Nasdaq this year, people familiar with the matter have told Bloomberg. The world’s largest technology investor is testing the market’s appetite for raising as much as $10 billion in the IPO, Bloomberg has reported. SoftBank has not publicly confirmed its choice of exchange, although it did disclose that Arm filed confidentially for a New York offering.

“Arm will be positioned as an AI play into the IPO,” Jefferies analyst Atul Goyal wrote in a note. Goyal assumes $60 billion as a “base case” valuation for Arm.

Jefferies became at least the third financial firm to upgrade SoftBank to buy in the past three weeks, following Morningstar and HSBC. The stock now has 18 buy recommendations versus five holds and no sells.

SoftBank Group has said it is keen to ramp up investments in AI, though big losses on holdings in recent quarters that drove the company’s stock down have made it cautious. Masayoshi Son’s flagship’s existing investment in Arm is now providing it with a key way to ride the theme.

Arm’s chief executive officer, Rene Haas, highlighted AI in a keynote address at a trade conference in Taiwan earlier this week. SoftBank’s Japanese telecommunications unit also announced a tie-up with Nvidia on a platform for generative AI and 5G/6G applications using Arm-based chips.

Proceeds from the Arm IPO could help improve the outlook for SoftBank’s shareholder returns, SMBC Nikko analyst Satoru Kikuchi wrote in a a note this week. SoftBank has in the past funded buybacks by selling some of its Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. shares, though it has recently moved to substantially reduce its position in the Chinese internet giant.

--With assistance from Min Jeong Lee and Aya Wagatsuma.

(Updates share move; adds SMBC Nikko comment, context on Alibaba investment)

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