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Alibaba’s Jack Ma quits SoftBank board after huge Vision Fund losses

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Jack Ma, CEO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, speaks during his visit at the Vivatech startups and innovation fair, in Paris on May 16, 2019.

Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images

Alibaba founder Jack Ma is stepping down from the board of SoftBank after the company’s Vision Fund posted record-breaking losses of $18 billion. 

Ma, whose $41.8 billion net worth makes him China’s richest man, is the latest high-profile figure to exit SoftBank Group, which on Monday posted total annual losses of $13 billion for the year ending March 31. Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai stepped down from SoftBank’s board in December, while Nidec founder Shigenobu Nagamori stepped down in 2017. 

SoftBank did not provide a reason for Ma’s resignation but he has become increasingly focused on education philanthropy over the last year. He stepped down as Alibaba’s chairman last September and there’s speculation that he’ll quit Alibaba’s board later this year.

Regardless of the reasons, Ma’s departure (effective June 25) comes after SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son pivoted away from telecoms to backing new companies through the colossal $100 billion Vision Fund, which was launched in 2017.

In total, the Vision Fund has backed 88 start-ups with a total of $75 billion. The Vision Fund, which counts Apple and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund among its contributors, is in poor health because a number of its biggest bets have turned out to be disasters. 

An enormous $9 billion bet on WeWork turned out to be a very bad move after the office space provider imploded, spectacularly, months before the coronavirus wreaked havoc with global economies. With dozens of multi-story offices empty around the world, WeWork’s situation is only expected to go from bad to worse. 

The Vision Fund has also pumped billions of dollars into companies like taxi app Uber and Indian hotel chain Oyo, which have seen their valuations plummet over the last few months as a result of the coronavirus and confinement measures, among other factors.

“Values of Uber, WeWork and its three affiliates decreased, and total fair value of other portfolio companies decreased significantly,” SoftBank wrote in its financial report. 

Old friends 

Ma and Son, two of Asia’s best-known tech tycoons, are close friends and their relationship goes back at least 20 years as Son was one of Alibaba’s earliest investors. In 2000, one year after Alibaba was founded, SoftBank invested a reported $20 million into the company. An SEC filing from February showed that SoftBank owns around 25% of Alibaba, a stake worth more than $100 billion, making it SoftBank Group’s most valuable investment. 

SoftBank stock hit a four-year low on March 19, prompting the group to announce plans to sell or monetize $41 billion of its assets and buy back $4.7 billion of its shares.

CNBC did not immediately hear back from Alibaba or SoftBank when it contacted them for comment. 

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Market closes above a key milestone, setting up stocks for more gains

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The Wall Street Bull (The Charging Bull) is seen during Covid-19 pandemic in New York, on May 26, 2020.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The stock market closed above a key milestone and looks set to keep moving higher for now.

The S&P 500 broke above its 200-day moving average for a second day, but this time succeeded in closing above it. The S&P 500 surged 44 points to 3,036 on Wednesday, after trading weaker early in the day. Before this week, the S&P was last above the 200-day on March 5.

The 200-day happened to be at 3,000, a level that is also seen as psychologically important.

The market was helped Wednesday by a steadying in momentum names, like Netflix and Tesla that touched their lows of the day just before 11 a.m. ET.  The S&P 500 hit its low at about the same time, as the group which includes the FAANG names, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google parent Alphabet, all started to turn higher.  

Those big tech names that have been drivers of the market took a rest this week, as traders focused on names that will benefit from a reopening economy, like airlines, banks and industrials. The S&P financial sector is up more than 9.6% this week so far, and industrials are up more than 7.%. Communications services, which includes internet names, was up just 0.8%.

“Another feather in the hat of the market for reclaiming the 200-day. We’ll see where it takes us,” said Scott Redler, partner with T3Live.com. “Tech had one more washout recovery to relieve some pressure and got back in line. I wouldn’t be surprised if tech acts better and the reopening trade takes a rest, like banks and the airlines.”

The 200-day is simply the average of the closing prices for the last 200 days for an index or even individual stock. In the case of the S&P 500, some investors view the 200-day as a line in the sand, where they will go long above  that level but not below it. That can generate interest in the market and help pull it higher.

Redler said the S&P 500 could face new resistance when the index reaches 3,080, a zone where the market broke down in March.

Paul Christopher, head of global market strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said the broadening out of the rally has been important and should help propel stocks. “The market has to figure out there’s more than one story to price,” he said, noting it would be hard to have a sustained rally without FAANG.

“In order to have a sustained rally, you needed broader participation. We still worry their fundamentals are not consistent with … gains we are seeing, especially in a lot of those smaller regional banks,” he said. Christopher said it’s unclear what kind of loan losses they could face in real estate, and from businesses like restaurants. 

“The rotation we’re seeing is a rotation to value, to small caps. It’s as if everything that got beaten up was getting a bid,” he said.

Christopher said there are headwinds for the market, including the rising tensions between the U.S. and China. That could come into focus later in the year, as the presidential election gets closer and candidates discuss China relations. For now, however, the V-shaped recovery is being seen as possible by some investors who see progress in the reopenings, he said.

“I don’t think this has registered yet,” Christopher said. “The market is still paying all of its attention to the accumulation of recent hopeful signs, not to cold hard facts, about a vaccine, a successful opening and a V-shaped recovery, which had been dismissed before.”

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Asia Pacific stocks set to jump as U.S.-China tensions ramp up

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress on Wednesday that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from China, raising questions over the special administrative region’s favorable trade relationship with the U.S.

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Huawei CFO loses major battle in extradition fight

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Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co., leaves the Supreme Court in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019.

Trevor Hagan | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou lost a major legal battle in her fight against extradition to the U.S. to stand trial on fraud charges.

In the Wednesday ruling, the Supreme Court of British Columbia found that the case against Meng meets a standard called “double criminality,” where the acts the U.S has accused her of are also illegal in Canada. The next phase of proceedings will begin next month. 

Diplomatic tensions are rising as Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, will have to remain in Vancouver on bail during a lengthy extradition process. 

Shortly after the court’s decision, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged Canada to release Meng immediately and ensure her return to China. The Global Times, which is aligned with the Communist Party of China, blamed the U.S. for the ruling, saying Canada’s judicial and diplomatic independence has fallen to “U.S. bullying.” 

Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunication supplier, has been a flashpoint for the Trump administration’s trade battles with China. Shortly after Meng was arrested in December 2018, President Trump weighed in on the extradition case, telling Reuters he might consider “intervening” in the case if it would help the U.S.- China trade war. On Wednesday afternoon, legislation calling for sanctions against China passed both houses of Congress; President Trump has not said whether he intends to sign it into law.

The U.S. Commerce Department has also targeted Huawei. It blocked shipments of semiconductors to the company from chip-makers. That followed the administration’s move to keep Huawei on the U.S. Entity List, a blacklist that restricts American firms doing business with the company. The ban is hitting Huawei’s bottom line. The company reported it saw slowing revenue growth in 2019

Huawei said it was “disappointed” in the ruling and maintained Meng’s innocence.

Meng is due back in court June 15.

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