Moody's outlook revision reignites SoftBank spat

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Credit-rating firm Moody’s (NYSE:MCO) Investors Service on Friday revised its outlook for SoftBank Group Corp to “negative” from “ratings under review”, three months after making a two-notch downgrade that caused a public spat with the tech conglomerate.

The revision to the outlook represents a doubling-down by Moody’s after it cut SoftBank deeper into junk territory in March – leading to the indebted conglomerate taking the unusual step of asking for its rating to be withdrawn.

SoftBank in a statement said it “has provided no information to Moody’s”, and that it is “unclear what Moody’s intention is” or “what information it uses” to make its assessment.

On Thursday, SoftBank said it has raised $35 billion by selling down assets including part of its stake in China’s Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) Group Holding Ltd to fund share buybacks and pay down debt – a figure representing 80% of its planned total.

“Major asset sales have been announced but given the structured nature of the transactions, cash proceeds may not all yet have been received or applied towards debt reduction,” Moody’s said.

SoftBank’s preference for complex financial transactions like collateralised margin loans “signals a heightened tolerance for risk and financial complexity,” Moody’s continued.

The concerns follow peer S&P Global Ratings which earlier this month said SoftBank’s 2.5 trillion yen ($24 billion) buyback plan – launched to stabilise the firm’s stock price after its tech investments faltered – raised doubts about “financial soundness and creditworthiness”.

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