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Tongues wag that Softbank's Son may sell Arm to Samsung

Japanese super-tycoon to discuss 'stategic alliance' with electronics chaebol

SoftBank mogul Masayoshi Son reportedly plans to meet executives at Samsung Electronics in Seoul to discuss a partnership between the Japanese mega-conglomerate's Arm subsidiary and the South Korean foundry giant.

According to Bloomberg, Son, during his first visit to Korea in three years, intends to discuss a “strategic alliance” between Arm and Samsung.

The specifics of what that alliance may entail remain up for speculation. One potential point of discussion is a possible sale – in whole or part – of the British chip designer to the uber-chaebol. This follows rumors that Qualcomm was mulling buying a stake in Arm.

We get the slight sense that SoftBank wants shot of Arm.

While SoftBank had signaled its intent to take Arm public after a $66 billion attempt to sell the CPU design house to America's Nvidia was not only confronted with insurmountable pushback from regulators, but backlash from certain corners of the semiconductor industry – notably the ones licensing Arm's processor blueprints, who feared what Nvidia would do to the ecosystem.

If Arm goes public again, it could be valued at up to $60 billion. However, SoftBank put plans for a London IPO on hold in July, citing political upset in the UK in the wake of then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation.

Johnson had reportedly ordered an incentive package be assembled to secure a local listing. At the time it was also suggested that SoftBank’s Son was instead seeking a listing on the New York Stock Exchange, a preference he’d made plain during a shareholder meeting in June. As of this month, the UK government was still pushing for a dual listing.

News of Son’s visit to the South Korean capital comes as SoftBank’s Vision fund faces its largest losses in its history. In August the Japanese conglomerate reported a blistering ¥3.16 trillion ($22 billion) loss over the previous three months.

And for its part, Samsung is not only among the largest producers of consumer electronics in the world, it designs many of its own chips under the Exynos line, and is the second largest foundry operator behind Taiwan’s TSMC. An Arm buy, however unlikely, would secure Samsung a massive library of intellectual property with which to manufacture chips as well as licensing the designs out. Samsung is an Arm licensee.

The full stack approach would mirror Intel, which is rapidly expanding its own fab infrastructure to support contact manufacturing under its IDM 2.0 strategy. Under its newly formed Intel Foundry Service (IFS) business unit, the chipmaker plans to manufacture components based on a combination of its own internally developed and licensed designs, designs using Arm or RISC-V technology, and customers' own custom IP.

With that said, it’s hard to see how SoftBank would avoid the same regulatory pitfalls that ultimately doomed Nvidia’s attempted acquisition.

The Register has reached out to Samsung and SoftBank for a response; we'll let you know if we hear anything back. Arm declined to comment. ®

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