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How Softbank's VisionFund rode the pandemic to an $8 billion net profit last quarter

SoftBank's Vision Fund went from being in the red, with an annual operating loss of $18 billion at one point, to an $8 billion net profit in its most recent quarter — thanks in no small part to the past year's unexpected events.

Why it matters: While the Vision Fund's bet on a global shift to digital services is likely correct, it's hard to believe its financial performance would have rebounded so quickly had 2020 gone differently.

The pandemic...

  • It's been a huge accelerant for trends central to Vision Fund's thesis and many of its portfolio companies — food delivery, online education, e-commerce, and so on.
  • SoftBank's defensive moves in the spring, including stock buybacks and writing down more poorly performing companies, put it a position to benefit even more from the surprising boom on the stock market that followed.
  • Even WeWork—which fell so hard, so fast when it tried to go public in 2019 — could be the one office co-working company left standing after the pandemic. Regus properties have been filing for bankruptcy (and its parent company just acquired a majority stake in embattled women-focused clubhouse The Wing), as has Knotel, another venture-backed rival that was once valued at $1.6 billion.

The stock market...

  • It didn't get the memo that there's a global pandemic and massive economic hit — it just kept going up and to the right.
  • 11 of SoftBank's portfolio companies have gone public since the pandemic began, helping to contribute to the Vision Fund's $13 billion in investment gains just in the last quarter.
  • Even portfolio companies that were already public performed well, adding to the fund's recent success.

The other side:

  • For one, luck isn't everything — the fund's performance is tied to CEO Masayoshi Son's fundamental investment thesis staying focused on digital technologies.
  • A great market won't do very much for a portfolio of weak companies that won't be able to go public or continue to grow in value. In short: SoftBank did well in picking eventual winners.
  • And now, three-and-a-half years into the Vision Fund, SoftBank is past the trough of the expected J-curve, which is par for the course in venture investing. As they say: things get worse before they get better.

The bottom line: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity," Roman philosopher Seneca once wrote.

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Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Investors holding the ultra-popular Nasdaq 100 and S&P 500 index funds have been hard hit over the last two weeks as tech shares have been roiled by rising U.S. Treasury yields.

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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Anomalous Arkansas case data from Feb. 28 was not included in the calculated change; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. may be on the verge of another surge in coronavirus cases, despite weeks of good news.

The big picture: Nationwide, progress against the virus has stalled. And some states are ditching their most important public safety measures even as their outbreaks are getting worse.

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Sidewalk robots get legal rights as "pedestrians"

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Why it matters: Fears of a dystopian urban world where people dodge heavy, fast-moving droids are colliding with the aims of robot developers large and small — including Amazon and FedEx — to deploy delivery fleets.

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The biggest obstacle to a wealth tax

Taxing the rich is an idea that's back. An "ultra-millionaire tax" introduced by Elizabeth Warren and other left-wing Democrats this week would raise more than $3 trillion over 10 years, they say, while making the tax system as a whole more fair.

Why it matters: New taxes would be a necessary part of any Democratic plan to redistribute wealth and reduce inequality. But President Biden has more urgent priorities — and Warren's wealth tax in particular faces constitutional obstacles that make it a hard sell.

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House passes For the People Act to expand voting rights

The House voted 220-210Wednesday to pass Democrats' expansive election and anti-corruption bill.

Why it matters: Expanding voting access has been a top priority for Democrats for years, but the House passage of the For the People Act (H.R. 1) comes as states across the country consider legislation to rollback voting access in the aftermath of former President Trump's loss.

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House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

The House voted 220-212onWednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

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Republicans are demanding a full 600-page reading of Biden’s COVID relief bill

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.

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