LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Adam Neumann is in a bind. The WeWork founder needs to raise at least $3 billion through an initial public offering to unlock another $6 billion of bank credit. But The We Company has shelved its float due to weak demand from investors. Without the cash, growth will dip, potentially pushing the office-sharing startup’s value even lower.
Neumann on Monday effectively postponed an IPO scheduled for this month, stating instead that the company was looking forward to joining the stock market “this year”. The We Company’s valuation has dropped dramatically since largest shareholder SoftBank invested at a $47 billion price tag in January. Reuters reported last week that the purveyor of hip office space was considering an offering that would value the business at $10-12 billion. But even if its Japanese backer stumped up another $750 million, Neumann would have fallen well short of his fundraising target.
The entrepreneur desperately needs the extra $9 billion in equity and debt to fund The We Company’s rapid growth. Though revenue more than doubled last year to $1.8 billion, the combination of negative operating cash flow and heavy capital spending meant the company burned through $2.2 billion. Neumann might need $15 billion of extra cash to pay for office refits, free beer and the like up to 2023, according to a Breakingviews calculator that assumes continued growth.
What if The We Company shelves its growth plans and cuts the red ink? It would then look more like IWG, its dull but profitable peer. The company founded by Mark Dixon has an enterprise value of around 1.4 times this year’s expected sales. Generously assume that WeWork’s 2019 sales reach $3.6 billion, or double last year’s total, and on the same multiple as IWG, it would be worth $5.2 billion, including an estimated $100 million of net debt.
Even that may be a stretch, however, since The We Company is a long way from being profitable, let alone matching IWG’s 15% EBITDA margin. The group says its existing offices earn a 25% “contribution margin”, which excludes expansion costs, overheads and many other non-cash expenses. Generously accept that definition, and assume Neumann stops all marketing spending and cuts overheads in half. In that best-case scenario, EBITDA this year would be $391 million, or 11% of revenue. Put that on IWG’s 9.5 times EBITDA multiple, deduct debt, and The We Company’s equity would be worth just $3.6 billion. In other words, Neumann and SoftBank are in big trouble.
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