What exactly did Sprint’s chairman, Tokyo billionaire Masayoshi Son, promise President-elect Donald Trump?
The internet has buzzed with that question since the two men held an impromptu news conference Tuesday in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York.
After they held a meeting, Trump said Son had agreed to invest $50 billion and create 50,000 jobs in the United States.
It’s not a reach for Son. As founder and CEO of Tokyo-based SoftBank Group Inc., Son directs SoftBank’s more than 80 percent ownership of Overland Park-based Sprint, a major Japanese wireless company as well as major investments in China’s version of eBay, called Alibaba, and many other companies.
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“This is Masa of SoftBank from Japan,” Trump said. “And he’s one of the great men of industry.”
Few details have emerged about the pledge, leaving many unanswered questions including the mystery of who signed it.
For starters, the $50 billion would come from an investment fund called the SoftBank Vision Fund.
SoftBank formed the fund along with the sovereign investment fund of Saudi Arabia and is taking in money from others. But enough of the money will come from SoftBank that the fund’s operational results will be consolidated into SoftBank’s own quarterly financial report — just as SoftBank includes Sprint’s financial results.
Son said the money would go into new companies, startups. For a sense of the scale of that pledge, telecommunications analyst Walt Piecyk of BTIG Research noted that Sprint rival T-Mobile USA Inc. is worth about $47 billion and has 50,000 employees.
That’s not speculation on a bid for T-Mobile, but there was plenty of speculation Tuesday about Son’s interest in T-Mobile as a potential motive for his $50 billion pledge.
Several reports have questioned Trump’s claim that Son would not have made the promise had the Republican not won the election.
CBS News pointed out that SoftBank announced the fund in mid-October, well before Trump’s unexpected Nov. 8 victory. And Business Insider noted a study from EY, formerly Ernst & Young, showing that large investment funds like the one SoftBank created tend to invest about half their money in the United States anyway.
A SoftBank spokeswoman said the company did not have any comment other than Son’s own words. She provided a link to a Youtube video of Son’s interview after Trump had left the lobby.
“I just came to celebrate his new job,” Son said, “and commit (to the investment and jobs) because he would do a lot of deregulation.”
Others wanted more.
CNBC reported that Trump and Son “did not give details on what specific investments SoftBank would make.” The Business Insider report emphasized that nothing was official and that “no legally binding contract has been signed,” according to its source.
There were signature sightings, though it remains unclear just whose were spotted.
During the brief session with Trump, Son held up a printout of a presentation that highlighted $50 billion and 50,000 jobs. And when asked his name in the interview after Trump left, Son pointed to a corner of the document.
The Verge said both men appeared to have signed it.