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SoftBank doubles down on WeWork with possible majority stake

SoftBank doubles down on WeWork with possible majority stake

The Japanese banking giant is in discussions to buy a majority stake in the US shared office space provider WeWork, according to a source

This move will potentially double down on one of its biggest bets on a loss-making startup.

This deal will signal a shift for SoftBank, which runs the world’s biggest private equity fund and has concentrated its ownership of late-stage startups in minority stakes, in order to seek attractive targets for its massive pool of capital.

SoftBank shares fell 5.4% and suffered their biggest one-day drop in nearly two years on Wednesday partly on concerns about the prospects of eight-year-old WeWork– whose outlook is tied very closely to the ups and downs of the real estate market. Recent technology sector weaknesses also weighed on Softbank’s shares, said traders.

The source told Reuters that pricing and other details of the WeWork investment have yet to be firmed up, adding that it was not a done deal. A second source also stated that SoftBank is in talks regarding a major new investment in WeWork.

According to the Wall Street Journal, SoftBank’s investment can be between $15-20 billion, and would likely come from SoftBank’s Vision Fund. A significantly smaller SoftBank investment was also under discussion earlier this year and it valued WeWork up to $40 billion.

Both WeWork and SoftBank declined to comment. The sources also spoke on the condition of anonymity as the details of the talks were private.

SoftBank and its giant Vision Fund invested US$4.4 billion in WeWork last year and the Japanese company holds two board seats.

With SoftBank having little trouble raising funds, its main concern is finding assets that it believes can earn an attractive enough return, said Chris Lane, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein.

“The beauty of WeWork as a business is because they’re trying to go global and they’re moving quite fast they can absorb that capital,” he stated.

WeWork’s business is growing rapidly, with second-quarter sales more than doubling from a year earlier. In September it managed to surpass JPMorgan– the biggest US bank– as the largest tenant of Manhattan office space, highlighting growing demand for flexible leases.

There has been however, a lot of skepticism regarding WeWork’s prospects by some Silicon Valley investors who see the company as an overvalued real estate play vulnerable to a property market downturn. In its inaugural release of financial results in August, WeWork stated that its second-quarter losses mounted.

A majority stake in WeWork for SoftBank, which has raised more than US$93 billion to create the technology-focused Vision Fund, would be a shift from its usual practice of taking minority stakes in high-profile late-stage startups.

WeWork’s Chinese unit raised US$500 million in July from investors including SoftBank, Hony Capital and Trustbridge Partners, to drive its expansion in that country.

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