WeWork IPO valuation likely below $20 billion, clouding SoftBank's vision
(Reuters) - WeWork owner The We Company is weighing slashing the valuation of its forthcoming IPO to below $20 billion, two sources said, in the latest headwind for leading shareholder SoftBank Group (9984.T) whose key group portfolio firms have tumbled in value.
The valuation for the money-losing U.S. office-sharing startup could be as low as $15 billion-$18 billion, one of the sources with direct knowledge of the matter said. The other source said the valuation was unlikely to be as low as that.
SoftBank, whose $100 billion Vision Fund is widely seen as having contributed to frothy tech valuations, has urged WeWork to shelve the IPO due to tepid investor demand, the Financial Times reported. SoftBank declined to comment.
But the tech conglomerate’s reluctance to pump further funds into WeWork means the startup “may have no choice but to push ahead with the IPO at a much lower than anticipated valuation,” one of the sources said.
While SoftBank and its Vision Fund emphasize their long-term investing credentials, founder and CEO Masayoshi Son has set out an ambitious IPO pipeline for tech investments spanning ride-hailing, fintech and health startups.
Putting WeWork’s offering on hold would disrupt that schedule at a time when SoftBank is seeking funds from investors for a second Vision Fund, for which it says $108 billion in pledges have been secured.
SoftBank made a follow-on investment in WeWork, one of its biggest tech bets, at a $47 billion valuation earlier this year - a number widely treated with scepticism by analysts.
While long-time Son lieutenant and group Vice Chairman Ron Fisher is pushing for the IPO to go ahead, others at SoftBank are pushing for a delay, one source said.
Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Chris Lane said that if WeWork halts its IPO, SoftBank could come up with an alternative funding plan for the startup, which he estimates needs $9 billion in funding to become cash-flow positive.
SoftBank “have got an important voice, but more importantly they have money ... (WeWork) will have to listen to them,” said Lane, who values the office space-sharing firm at $23 billion.
The tech conglomerate has burned through much of the $100 billion raised by its first Vision Fund in just two years, recording big paper gains on internal revaluations of its tech investments.
SoftBank defends its valuation techniques, which include cash-flow analysis, recent transactions and comparison with peers to underpin its numbers.
At the end of June the fund recorded the value of $71 billion in investments in 83 startups as having grown by $20 billion. Since then the share price of portfolio companies Uber and Slack have both fallen by around a third.
SoftBank says many investments receive a vote of confidence as third parties come in as co-investors or by making follow-on investments at the same or higher valuations.
If a tech company shelves an IPO due to a lower valuation than expected, investors are generally expected to take that fall into account when appraising their stakes.
Additional reporting by Tim Kelly in Tokyo, Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Bharath Manjesh in Bengaluru; Writing by Sam Nussey; Editing by Stephen Coates and Muralikumar Anantharaman