Tech

Tim Culpan is a technology columnist for Bloomberg Gadfly. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.

I hate to rain on your parade and all, but that $50 billion investment Masayoshi Son is supposedly pledging to create 50,000 jobs in the U.S.? It's not happening.

When fabulous people meet, fabulous things are said.

Donald Trump and Son told the world in New York on Tuesday that the Japanese billionaire will create jobs equivalent to three times those at Facebook Inc. (market cap: $339 billion).

Soft Money
SoftBank doesn't have the cash to meet Son's pledge to invest $25 billion in a venture fund
Source: Bloomberg

At $1 million per job, the cash-to-employment ratio sounds reasonable. But SoftBank Group Corp. doesn't have that kind of cash. It's to come via the previously announced $100 billion SoftBank Vision Fund, a huge virtual pile of money that will be 45 percent provided by the government of Saudi Arabia, with $25 billion coming from SoftBank. The rest is still being rounded up, but expect Foxconn Technology Group to pitch in.

(Let me pause here to point out the irony of the president-elect cheering a wave of Saudi money into the U.S.)

As for SoftBank, the company doesn't have the money for its own fund. A quick look at its balance sheet and you'll see that the Japanese telco-cum-VC has $26.4 billion in cash, $35.3 billion in short-term borrowings, $137 billion in long-term liabilities and a junk credit rating from both S&P Global Ratings and Moody's Investors Service. In fact, "substantial credit risk, have speculative characteristics" is the way Moody's describes the Ba1 rating that it gave SoftBank.

The term "speculative characteristics" describes this Son-Trump pledge. For Son to pony up the money to meet his end of the SoftBank Vision Fund, he'd put the mothership's debt rating in jeopardy.

Maybe Son doesn't care how much he pledges to Trump's job-creation campaign, calculating that it's worth the risk if it helps Sprint Corp., which SoftBank owns, take over T-Mobile US Inc. Son hinted as much when he told reporters that he wanted to celebrate Trump's election because the president-elect would advocate for deregulation.

Hard Money
There's no shortage of funds, with $72.3 billion deployed by venture capitalists in the U.S. last year
Source: EY

To be clear, those billions aren't intended for M&A, Bloomberg News reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. That's meant to be venture-capital money. As with some other measures announced by the president-elect, such investments were already in the pipeline before he won, and anyway the last thing the U.S. needs is trickle-down venturenomics.

That $50 billion figure, which I predict won't be deployed by SoftBank in U.S. startups in our lifetime, much less during a four-year Trump term, is double the amount of all VC funding made in 2009 and just shy of the value invested in 2014, according to the accounting firm EY. The fact that the figure grew to $72.3 billion last year reinforces the point I made in October that the U.S. doesn't need more cash to keep Silicon Valley humming along.

Then there's job creation. In theory, $50 billion could create 50,000 jobs. However, this is not a new $50 billion, but additional money on top of the billions already available from U.S. venture capitalists and the buckets more flooding in from around the world, including China. The 50th $1 billion will create far fewer jobs than the first $1 billion.

While neither Trump nor Son may worry too much about the facts, it's clear someone will be writing checks that can't be cashed.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

  1. Yes, I know that Son and Trump never said it would be invested during his presidency.

To contact the author of this story:
Tim Culpan in Taipei at tculpan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Paul Sillitoe at psillitoe@bloomberg.net