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SoftBank drops 10 percent after OneWeb files for bankruptcy

  • Pavel Alpeyev

    Bloomberg

New York, United States   /   Mon, March 30, 2020   /   09:20 am
SoftBank drops 10 percent after OneWeb files for bankruptcy The logo of SoftBank Group Corp is displayed at SoftBank World 2017 conference in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2017. (Reuters/Issei Kato)

SoftBank Group fell as much as 10 percent after a satellite operator it invested in filed for bankruptcy, ceding some gains from an unprecedented plan to sell assets and buy back shares.

OneWeb made the filing late Friday US time after raising about $3.3 billion in debt and equity financing from shareholders including SoftBank, Airbus and Qualcomm since its inception. At least $1 billion of that came from SoftBank, which said it first invested in December 2016 and declined to give a total amount.

It is the latest blow to SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, who last week unveiled a plan to raise $41 billion to buy back shares and slash debt. The announcement sent the shares soaring more than 50 percent in just a few days. The rally was interrupted when Moody’s Corp. cut its debt rating by two notches, saying the Japanese investment firm’s plan to sell off assets during a market downturn threatened its total value. SoftBank’s shares traded 6.7 percent lower on Monday morning in Tokyo.

Son had often pointed to OneWeb as one of the cornerstones of an investment portfolio that ranges from ride sharing, co-working and robotics to agriculture, cancer detection and autonomous driving. The startup was working on providing affordable high-speed access anywhere in the world and targeting 1 billion subscribers by 2025. Son has painted a picture of a future where satellite networks cover every inch of the Earth and a trillion devices connected to the internet disgorge data into the cloud where it is analyzed by artificial intelligence.

OneWeb listed liabilities and assets of more than $1 billion each in its Chapter 11 petition in US Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, New York. The company had been in advanced discussions earlier in the year for a fresh investment, it said in a statement. But the discussions fell apart after the coronavirus pandemic sent markets into a tailspin, it said.

The company had been mulling a Chapter 11 filing even as it continued to review possible out-of-court alternatives, people with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg News on March 19.

The satellite operator said it will pursue a sale process during the court reorganization and is in talks for so-called debtor-in-possession financing that would allow the company to fund its obligations during the proceedings.

OneWeb makes low-orbit satellites that provide high-speed communications. It faces high-profile competition, including from Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink project and Jeff Bezos’s Amazon-linked Project Kuiper effort, while incumbents in the space include Inmarsat, Intelsat SA and Eutelsat Communications SA.

At the time of its filing, OneWeb owed $238 million to Arianespace, its satellite launch operator, according to the court document. Arianespace, headquartered near Paris, describes itself on its website as the world’s first commercial space transportation company.