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Softbank’s Arm: Mega IPO could be just around the corner, a year after the biggest chip deal in history fell apart


Softbank’s Arm: Mega IPO could be just around the corner, a year after the biggest chip deal in history fell apart

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A hotly anticipated IPO for a company that designs chips for 99% of the world’s smartphones is just around the corner, after it filed paperwork Monday to go public.

Arm is a British tech company that architects power-sipping microchips for phones and tablets and licenses them to CPU makers, including Apple and Samsung. The company was public until 2016, when Japan’s Softbank bought it for $32 billion.

Softbank tried to offload Arm to Nvidia for $40 billion, in what would have been the biggest chip deal of all time. But global antitrust regulators put a stop to it, and the deal fell apart in February 2022.

Arm had been a hot commodity for decades, when the smartphone business was booming. But sales of smartphones have subsided recently, as customers opt to keep their phones for longer and new tech features have become less enticing to consumers.

The company, in its regulatory filing, said sales slipped 1% to $2.7 billion in the year that ended March 31, 2023. In the following quarter, which ended in June, sales fell 2.5%.

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Still, Arm has piqued the interest of tech investors who are looking to catch the AI wave. Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son has touted Arm as an AI company that could have “exponential growth.” He promised ChatGPT-like services would eventually be offered on Arm-designed machines.

In its IPO filing, Arm said the company “will be central” to the transition to AI.

“Arm CPUs already run AI and [machine learning] workloads in billions of devices, including smartphones, cameras, digital TVs, cars and cloud data centers,” the company said. “In the emerging area of large language models, generative AI and autonomous driving, there will be a heightened emphasis on the low power acceleration of these algorithms.”

But Son and Arm’s AI promises may overstate the company’s potential, at least somewhat. Arm-based chips have appeared in some gadgets beyond smartphones and tablets, such as servers that are less power-hungry. But Arm said it does not make AI chips and is not a direct competitor to Nvidia and others that make chips that are purpose-built for AI. Nvidia’s stock has exploded more than 200% this year.

Arm did not list the number of shares it planned to sell, so a valuation wasn’t determinable yet. But Reuters reported Softbank is looking to basically double its investment from seven years ago with a $60 billion to $70 billion valuation for Arm when it IPOs, likely next month.

Softbank also this week bought the 25% stake in Arm that it did not own directly but that had been held by the Saudi Vision Fund, which Softbank manages. That purchase valued Arm at $64 billion, according to the Financial Times.

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