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Softbank is selling off nearly $8 billion in Alibaba shares

Softbank, the Japanese telecoms conglomerate, said Tuesday (May 31) that it plans to sell about $8 billion worth of its substantial stake in Alibaba in order to raise capital.

The sale will leave Softbank with a 28% stake in Alibaba, the largest e-commerce company in China, down from about 32%. It marks the first time that Softbank has sold any of its shares in Alibaba. Softbank said in a statement that the transaction was “driven purely by [Softbank’s] capital structure and de-leveraging objectives.”

Softbank first invested in Alibaba in 2000, an early believer in Jack Ma’s then-nascent internet business. Fourteen years later, that initial position and subsequent ones turned into a $60-ish billion payday when Alibaba exploded onto the New York Stock Exchange. The public offering also added more than $16 billion to the personal net worth of Masayoshi Son, Softbank’s founder and CEO, making him the richest man in Japan. (Masayoshi has since fallen behind Tadashi Yanai, the founder and president of Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing.)

The biggest chunk of Softbank’s stake that’s being sold, valued at roughly $5 billion, is being packaged into a financial security that will convert into Alibaba shares in three years. Alibaba itself is buying back $2 billion of the stock, and another $400 million worth is going to the Alibaba Partnership, a small group of stakeholders who effectively control Alibaba’s board. Softbank is selling the last $500 million to the investment fund of a yet-to-be disclosed government.

“Under the leadership of Masayoshi Son, SoftBank has been a highly valued, long-time partner of Alibaba for more than 16 years, and we look forward to continuing our strong partnership together,” Ma, Alibaba’s executive chairman, said in a statement.

Shares of Alibaba fell about 2.7% in after-hours trading on Tuesday.

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