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SoftBank's Son wants to deploy cash on public and private firms

Nov 17 (Reuters) - SoftBank Group Corp Chief Executive Masayoshi Son said on Tuesday he is sitting on about $80 billion in cash for investment opportunities and share buybacks, and vowed to stick with his famously big bets on technology companies.

The move into cash by selling some SoftBank investments is in part due to concern over the continued spread of the coronavirus globally, Son told the DealBook Online Summit hosted by the New York Times.

“It’s the first time in our history to liquidate any of the assets as quickly as possible,” Son, speaking from Tokyo, said of SoftBank’s recent sales.

This year, Softbank divested more than $21 billion worth of stock in U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile US Inc and announced the $40 billion sale of chip designer Arm to Nvidia Corp.

Son said he will be “aggressive” if there are opportunities to invest in artificial intelligence companies.

“It is maybe a better price now for investing in unicorns. They need the funding,” said Son, referring to private companies worth at least $1 billion. He added that he also planned on more share buybacks if SoftBank’s stock falls.

SoftBank has set a $41 billion share buy-back and debt reduction plan. Its stock has more than doubled since its lows in March.

Son declined to comment on reports that SoftBank is thinking about taking itself private.

Son, who made his name for investing early in startups such as China’s Alibaba Group as well as office-sharing firm WeWork, said he will continue to take stakes in public companies he thinks are frontrunners in the AI race, including Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. (Reporting by Krystal Hu; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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