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SoftBank's Son defends Saudi ties as kingdom-backed fund boosts profit

Reuters  |  TOKYO 

By and Yamazaki

TOKYO (Reuters) - CEO on Monday condemned the killing of a by security personnel, and said his firm must carry out its responsibility to the kingdom's citizens whose money is invested in its

Arabia is the largest investor in the fund which was launched last year with over $90 billion in capital, giving Son firepower to make big bets in such as shared office space provider and hotels.

Global outcry over the murder case, however, has led many observers to regard that dependence as a risk to SoftBank's plans to raise further funds.

"These funds are important to the people in ensuring their economy diversifies and is no longer dependent on oil," Son said on Monday.

"It is true that a horrible incident happened. On the other hand, we have a responsibility towards the Saudi people, and we must carry out our responsibility rather than turn our backs on them."

Son was presenting SoftBank's earnings results, appearing before reporters for the first time since Jamal Khashoggi, a critical of the Saudi state, was murdered early last month in the

SoftBank booked July-September operating profit of 705.7 billion yen ($6.23 billion), helped by higher valuations on by the Saudi-backed That compared with 395.6 billion yen a year earlier under different accounting standards.

(Click for graphic showing the Vision Fund's growing contribution to SoftBank profit https://tmsnrt.rs/2RAwtfI)

Son said there was no indication SoftBank's Saudi links are deterring startups from accepting capital, with company on Friday announcing a $1.1 billion investment from the

And there are still plans to raise further funds, Son said, though he emphasised SoftBank would proceed cautiously and is waiting for the outcome of the Khashoggi case.

Worries about the Saudi fallout and a broader downturn in global have weighed on SoftBank shares. They closed on Monday at 8,747 yen, down 24 percent from September's high of 11,500 yen.

IPO WORRIES

Another recent concern has been the planned initial public offering (IPO) of SoftBank's domestic mobile phone unit amid government pressure on Japan's to lower prices.

Market participants said the offering could surpass the record $25 billion worth of shares sold by China's in in 2014.

(Click for a chart of the largest IPOs in and globally https://tmsnrt.rs/2NyR45I)

The IPO will mark the transformation of SoftBank from a domestic telco, which successfully challenged the country's incumbent duopoly, into one of the world's biggest

While the offering is expected to draw Japan's attracted to SoftBank's image as a successful tech company and the prospect of steady returns, it comes as the government pushes for lower fees.

Against that backdrop, said last week it will cut service charges by as much as 40 percent, affecting its earnings from the next fiscal year.

Separately, competition is set to increase as enters the mobile market in a year's time with the help of a tie-up with telco KDDI Corp.

Son shrugged off such concerns on Monday, saying he wanted to keep growing sales and profit at SoftBank's mobile unit and pay a high dividend.

Even so, in the face of that government pressure, SoftBank will increase automation and reduce headcount in mobile operations by 40 percent over the next two to three years focusing instead on new growth areas, Son said.

The unit serves as the gateway for many of SoftBank's portfolio companies into Japan, operating joint ventures such as shared offices with WeWork, taxi hailing with Chuxing, and a QR code payments business using technology from India's

($1 = 113.2500 yen)

(Reporting by and Yamazaki; Writing by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, November 05 2018. 22:07 IST
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