SoftBank’s Arm Files for IPO That Is Set to Be 2023’s Biggest

SoftBank's Arm is targeting a stock debut that would be the third largest ever. The target valuation reflects a belief that the company will benefit from the rush toward AI chips and generative AI.

Bloomberg News

August 22, 2023

5 Min Read
Arm logo backdrop
Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- SoftBank Group Corp.’s Arm Holdings Ltd. took a step toward what’s set to become the biggest initial public offering of the year, a bet that the once-obscure designer of phone chips can flourish in the era of artificial intelligence computing.

In a long-awaited regulatory filing Monday, Arm said the offering is being led by Barclays Plc, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Mizuho Financial Group Inc. The document listed 24 other underwriters below that top tier — with Morgan Stanley notably absent. 

A successful debut by Arm would provide a windfall for SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, whose Vision Fund lost a record $30 billion last year. It could also spur dozens of companies to pursue — or further delay — their own IPO plans. That includes businesses like online grocery-delivery firm Instacart Inc., marketing and data automation provider Klaviyo and footwear maker Birkenstock.

Arm plans to start its roadshow the first week of September and price the IPO the following week, Bloomberg has reported. The company didn’t disclose proposed terms for the share sale in the document, but it’s expected to seek a valuation of $60 billion to $70 billion. Arm, based in Cambridge, UK, also has held talks with some of its biggest customers about backing the IPO. 

Related:Qualcomm, NXP Team Up to Develop Rival to Arm Chip Standard

While Arm had been aiming to raise $8 billion to $10 billion in the IPO, that target could be lower since SoftBank has decided to hold onto more of the company after buying Vision Fund’s stake in it. That transaction valued Arm at more than $64 billion, based on the filing.

Even so, the offering promises to give the struggling IPO market its biggest lift in almost two years. The listing is poised to be the largest in the US since electric-vehicle maker Rivian Automotive Inc.’s $13.7 billion offering in October 2021. It could rank near or even just below the tech industry’s largest-ever IPOs: Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s $25 billion 2014 offering and 2012’s $16 billion debut by Meta Platforms Inc., then known as Facebook Inc.

Arm IPO comparison chart

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Arm’s target valuation reflects a belief that it will benefit from the stampede toward artificial intelligence chips and generative AI — an industry shift that has helped give chipmaker Nvidia Corp. a $1.2 trillion valuation.

“A strong performance from Arm will not only be a major windfall for SoftBank, but also reinforce its AI strategy by showing the market hype around AI hasn’t waned,” said Kyle Stanford, an analyst at PitchBook.

Though Arm’s technology is used in almost every smartphone, it isn’t well-known among consumers. Arm sells the blueprints needed to design microprocessors, and licenses technology known as instruction sets that dictate how software programs communicate with those chips. The power efficiency of Arm’s technology helped make it ubiquitous on phones, where battery life is critical.

Related:TSMC to Build $11 Billion German Plant With Other Chipmakers

Rene Haas, who took over as Arm’s chief executive officer last year, is now working to expand beyond the smartphone market, which has stagnated in recent years. He’s setting his sights on more advanced computing, particularly the chips for data centers and AI applications.

Processors for that market are among the most expensive — and profitable — in the industry. Amazon.com Inc. has adopted Arm-based chips for its Amazon Web Services because it says they are more efficient both in terms of energy and economics. They are used by 40,000 AWS customers. 

SoftBank will remain the controlling shareholder of Arm after it begins trading, according to the filing. SoftBank, based in Tokyo, has acquired substantially all of the Vision Fund’s 25% stake in Arm for $16.1 billion. The filing warned that this transaction might not be indicative of the Arm share price after the offering.

The paperwork also confirmed that Arm saw its revenue decline about 1% in its last fiscal year. The company’s sales fell to $2.68 billion for the year ended March 31, according to the document.

The overall chip industry is still contending with a sales slump, worsened by a glut of inventory. The smartphone market has been hit especially hard. Qualcomm Inc., one of Arm’s biggest customers, gave a disappointing forecast for the latest quarter earlier this month, sending its shares tumbling. And even Apple Inc.’s prized iPhone has seen demand slow.

Tensions with China also could cast a shadow over Arm’s business. In the filing, the company pointed to export restrictions from the US and UK as risks, hindering its ability to sell its Neoverse processor in China. 

Arm plans to change its name to “Arm Holdings Plc” before it begins trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the symbol ARM. The filing confirms that the IPO’s top four banks will be acting as joint book-running managers of the offering. Bloomberg News has reported that the four will get an equal share of the fees, breaking with standard practice.

In the filing, Arm called itself an “engineering-first company,” with 4,753 of its workers — or about 80% of global employees — focused on research, design and technical innovation. The company said it owns or co-owns about 6,800 issued patents and has approximately 2,700 patent applications pending worldwide.

In the last fiscal year, more than 260 companies were using Arm-based chips, including Amazon, Alphabet Inc., Qualcomm and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. The company has worked with its top 10 customers — measured by royalty revenue — for an average of more than 20 years.

As AI fever has swept the tech industry, companies will need the right chips to run complex software. Arm says that every processor it designs will accelerate the AI and machine learning tech that it helps power. Its processors already run those technologies, and the company has started adding new functionality to make the algorithms run faster.

As part of that push, Arm is working with Alphabet, autonomous driving company Cruise, Mercedes-Benz, Meta and Nvidia to deploy Arm technology that can run AI-based software.

Arm was founded in 1990 as a joint venture between Acorn Computers, Apple and VLSI Technology. It was listed on the London Stock Exchange and Nasdaq from 1998 until 2016, when SoftBank acquired the business for $32 billion.

SoftBank previously attempted to sell Arm to Nvidia in a $40 billion deal, which would have been the largest chip industry takeover. But the purchase faced opposition from regulators and Arm’s own customers, and Nvidia walked away from it last year. SoftBank then embarked on its plan for the IPO. 

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