SoftBank reportedly moves London IPO out of Arm's reach

Tory turmoil turns off tycoon's Tokyo tech titan theoretically temporarily

SoftBank may have stalled plans to take its chip designing subsidiary Arm public in the UK.

The Japanese giant, founded by billionaire Masayoshi Son, had intended to list Arm on both the London Stock Exchange and New York-based NASDAQ. According to an overnight Financial Times report, though, Tokyo-based Softbank has at least paused work on the Brit half of that dual listing.

The plan for a London listing came about, in part, by a push from soon-to-be-former UK Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who saw Arm as a torchbearer for British tech and a listing in London as a symbol that the capital's stock exchange deserves global tech investors' attention.

A UK listing would also emphasize Arm's global HQ, which remains in Cambridge, England, and demonstrate the post-Brexit nation's tech and science is worth investing in.

Which is why Johnson reportedly ordered an incentive package be assembled to secure a local listing.

Arm is an excellent candidate for a symbolic role as the UK's digital champion, as its tech has deep roots in the country and its core business of creating chip designs that others can license and adapt has seen its IP land in literally billions of devices around the world. Arm's … erm … footprint is therefore enormous and growing larger every year as its products fit into growing niches – from the datacenter to internet of things devices that can derive power from algae.

Arm's enormous customer base is why Softbank bought it in 2016. Nvidia tried to acquire the chip design company in 2020 to get the GPU giant deeper into the datacenter and some other markets.

But regulators didn't like the idea of that transaction, because it would clearly create incentives for Nvidia to make life hard for other licensees of Arm tech. The deal collapsed and SoftBank unveiled plan B: taking the company public.

That decision saw Johnson order ministers to lobby to secure a London listing.

Then, two weeks ago, Johnson said words that might appear to indicate he would step down. Not only that, but the flurry of ministerial resignations preceding his exit meant the people who had been talking to SoftBank about a London listing were no longer in place, or may not be for long – because a new prime minister will be appointed in early September and the government reshaped.

Whether SoftBank can slow its roll while it waits to see if the next UK regime has the same enthusiasm for a London listing is not known. The FT report suggests those in the know believe SoftBank would rather focus its energies on a New York listing – which is what Son wanted all along – than wait for the whims of Westminster to work things out.

While Arm listing offshore would dent British pride, the biz has retained its Cambridge HQ throughout its Japanese ownership and has said it intends to remain in what's known as Silicon Fen. ®

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