Should Trump get credit for SoftBank plan to invest $50B in U.S. tech?

Last Updated Dec 9, 2016 2:55 PM EST

President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday claimed credit for Japanese billionaire Masayoshi “Masa” Son’s planned $50 billion investment in U.S. tech startups, which the two said would create 50,000 new jobs. 

Mr. Trump later tweeted that “Masa said he would never do this had we (Trump) not won the election!” But in his appearance at Trump Tower with the president-elect, Son, who heads the tech and finance conglomerate SoftBank Group, did not confirm Mr. Trump’s assessment, and merely said he was there to congratulate him on his election victory. 

It’s clear, though, that the new fund that will provide the $50 billion was well under way prior to the U.S. vote Nov. 8. In October, before the election, Son announced the creation of the $100 billion tech investment kitty, called the SoftBank Vision Fund, in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign investment fund and other partners. On Tuesday, he told Dow Jones that the $50 billion earmarked for the U.S. would come from the SoftBank Vision Fund. 

While Son did not announce before the election where he intended to invest the fund’s billions, the U.S. was a logical destination because it is the world’s foremost locale for tech start-ups. For the 12 months ending Sept. 30, U.S. start-ups attracted $80.2 billion in venture-capital funding, compared to $65.5 bilIion for the rest of the world, according to research firm CB Insights. American start-ups also outpaced foreign ones in the number of deals done: 1,067 versus 916.

The U.S. is home to 96 of the globe’s 174 private unicorn companies -- start-ups valued at more than $1 billion, CB Insights found. In a 2015 ranking, Business Insider found that the top four metro areas for start-ups worldwide were in the U.S. With around 22 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, the U.S. is also home to 14 of the 25 largest tech companies, which largely began life as upstarts. 

As the founder and chief executive of SoftBank, Son also controls the U.S. telecom giant Sprint, which is 80 percent owned by SoftBank. Shares in Sprint (S) spiked 6 percent after the SoftBank announcement was made by Mr. Trump, and then backed off some, finishing the day up by 2 percent.

Son still holds out hope to resurrect his plan to merge Sprint with rival wireless carrier T-Mobile (TMUS), Bloomberg News reported in August. SoftBank did not return a request for comment on that. The Obama administration’s Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission blocked the proposed merger in 2014. 

On the campaign trail, Trump decried AT&T’s (T) plan to buy media giant Time Warner (TWX). But how his administration would look upon mergers in general remains to be seen. 

Investment bank Evercore’s political analysis, Terry Haines, has written that Mr. Trump’s choice for U.S. attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), will be friendlier to merger activity than was the Obama administration. A request of the Trump transition team on whether the Sprint-T-Mobile deal came up in the Trump-Son meeting was not answered. 

  • Larry Light

    Larry Light is a veteran financial editor and reporter who has worked for the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Week, Money, AdviceIQ and Newsday.