Don't Expect Another Alibaba out of Softbank but You Are Getting a Portfolio of Asian Internet Leaders for a Bargain Price

02/20/2015 5:30 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

Though it's hard for individual investors to get in on venture capital stage companies anywhere, the ADRs of this Japanese telecommunications and Internet company are worth considering, and MoneyShow's Jim Jubak is adding shares as of today, February 20.

If you know Japan's Softbank (SFTBY) or (9984:JP in Tokyo) at all, it's either as the purchaser of 80% of Sprint (S) or an early investor in Alibaba (BABA). That first deal has, so far, resulted in a $6 billion loss on the $22 billion price tag. The second deal has fared somewhat better: A $20 million investment in 2000 resulted in a 32% ownership stake in the Chinese Internet giant valued at $68 billion.

Right now, because the Sprint deal has plunged Softbank into a costly war with wireless giants AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ), you can pick up the ADRs of Softbank at a bargain price, the value of the company's chunk of Alibaba and its 43% stake in Yahoo Japan exceed Softbank's $71 billion market cap. So you're getting Softbank's Japanese telecommunications business plus its stake in Sprint for free. Operating profits for the fiscal year that ends in March 2015 are projected by the company at $7.6 billion.

And you're also getting a portfolio of the next generation of still-private Asian Internet leaders. I doubt that any of these will turn out quite as well as Alibaba has but, hey, you never know.

I've been reminded recently of how deep Softbank's Asian Internet venture capital strategy goes by two news stories. In the first, the company said that it would invest $10 billion in India's Internet and e-commerce sector. India looks to me like the next big deal in Asian Internet companies. In the second, Softbank's name popped up in the merger of the China's two largest Internet taxi-hailing apps. Hangzhou Kuaidi Technology, known as Kuaidi Dache, will merge with Didi Dache in a deal whose details will be announced after the Lunar New Year holiday that began in China on February 18. Kuaidi Dache is backed by Alibaba, China's biggest e-commerce company, and Didi Dache is backed by Tencent Holding, China's e-chat leader. The joint company will benefit from a recent crackdown by regulators on car-hailing apps that rely on private vehicles acting as taxis. (If you think that's aimed at Uber, you're exactly right.

The merger comes less than two months after Baidu (BIDU), the owner of China's biggest search engine, agreed to buy a stake in Uber.

Among the list of investors in the two companies? Softbank, which participated in a $600 million private investment round by Kuaidi Dache in January.

As this deal suggests, Softbank pops up just about everywhere in Asia's Internet sector. The company owns stakes in other Asian Internet-based taxi companies such as Grab Taxi. It owns stakes in India's and Indonesia's biggest e-commerce companies, and tokopedia. Plus pieces of companies in advertising, media, gaming, and real estate. It's hard for individual investors to get in on venture capital stage companies anywhere, but to find a basket that gives you exposure to Asia's next generation?

Valuing Softbank isn't simple; I'd begin with a sum of the parts analysis for the company's stakes in Alibaba, Sprint, Yahoo Japan, and its telecommunications business in Japan and then throw in 10% or so for all those extremely promising but unproven Internet companies. I get a one-year target price of $42 per ADR. Softbank's ADRs closed at $29.59 on February 20. (Please note that you are taking yen currency risk with this investment, although Softbank isn't a purely Japanese company.)

As of February 20, I'm adding these ADRs to my Jubak's Picks portfolio.

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