WeWork shares up in NYSE debut

WeWork shares rose on their first day of trading on 21 October, capping a journey to a listing that included the implosion of its initial public offering in 2019 and the ouster of its co-founder and chief executive, Adam Neumann.

The shared-office company went public through a combination with BowX Acquisition, a special-purpose acquisition company. Shares closed 13.5% higher at $11.78 Thursday.

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In 2019, WeWork’s IPO fell apart as the company faced questions about its corporate governance and how much it was worth. Now the entity that is making its debut on the New York Stock Exchange has undergone a refresh under chief executive Sandeep Mathrani. It has closed locations, renegotiated leases and cut thousands of jobs to reduce expenses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The deal with BowX Acquisition earlier this year gave WeWork a roughly $8bn equity value. The combination provides WeWork with cash proceeds of about $1.3bn, the companies said.

Spacs, also known as blank-check companies because they raise money with the purpose of seeking a target to merge with and take public, have risen in popularity as companies seek alternatives to a traditional IPO. Share prices for listed Spacs have retreated this year, leaving many blank-check companies trading below their debut prices.

Founded in 2010, WeWork is a player in the market for flexible office space. It signs long-term leases with landlords, and after renovating a space and furnishing it, the company subleases small offices or even whole buildings to tenants for as little as a month at a time.

The company had a $47bn valuation in the lead-up to its IPO, but its attempt to tap the public markets in 2019 failed when investors rejected the money-losing company. Its visionary yet erratic leader, Neumann, subsequently resigned as chief executive, telling staff in an email at the time that “too much focus has been placed on me.”

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SoftBank, the Japanese technology investor that has poured money into WeWork, rescued the company after the failed IPO endeavor. It continues to hold a majority stake in WeWork after the Spac deal. Neumann will have voting power of about 11% after the business combination, according to a securities filing.

Securities filings from May show WeWork in February gave Neumann an enhanced stock award worth more than $200m, a benefit that wasn’t extended to other early shareholders. The deal was part of a renegotiation of the former chief executive’s 2019 exit package meant to end a long-running dispute between him and SoftBank and help clear the way for a public listing for WeWork, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In 2019, WeWork said that its mission was to “elevate the world’s consciousness” and that it could reduce costs by 66% compared with a standard lease. In its latest attempt to enter the public markets, WeWork released a slideshow for investors that included case studies of how companies could shave real-estate costs by around 25% per employee by switching to WeWork.

Ahead of the public-market debut, Mathrani marketed the company’s offering as so-called space as a service. “As companies around the world reimagine their workplace, WeWork is uniquely positioned,” he said on 20 October.

The Covid-19 pandemic struck just as WeWork was trying to rebound from its troubles in late 2019, posing a challenge for a company whose shared offices had workers in proximity. The company in August posted a net loss attributable to the company of $888.8m for the three months ended June 30, compared with a loss of $863.8m a year earlier.

In a securities filing, WeWork said its occupancy rate fell to 55% as of June 1 from 58% the same time last year because of a decline in demand primarily driven by the effects of Covid-19.

Mathrani said in a television appearance on 21 October that WeWork expects to be profitable next year after having corrected its cost structure during the pandemic.

Mathrani and executive chairman Marcelo Claure, who is also the chief operating officer of SoftBank, will continue to be at the helm of WeWork as it goes public, the company said.

Masayoshi Son, the billionaire founder of SoftBank, has said he made the wrong decision in investing in WeWork. “We made a failure on investing in WeWork,” Son said last year. “I was foolish.”

On 21 October, Claure said Son is now “very excited.”

“It was a mistake in the way we executed the investment,” Claure said on CNBC. “Now, it’s our job to make sure that it becomes another investment that generates the right return for SoftBank.”

Write to Dave Sebastian at [email protected]

This article was published by Dow Jones Newswires

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