By Noor Zainab Hussain
(Reuters) - Shares of SoftBank-owned WeWork jumped nearly 9% as they finally started trading in New York on Thursday, capping an arduous journey to the public markets for the storied office-sharing company that was once valued as high as $47 billion.
While WeWork's top management led by current chairman and SoftBank executive Marcelo Claure insist the worst is over, the office-sharing firm continues to lose money, two years after an IPO fiasco.
"WeWork has a low occupancy rate, 55-58% recently, and thus can grow revenue without increasing costs by very much. It needs to grow revenue, because it is currently losing close to $1 for every dollar of revenue that it brings in," IPO expert Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida, said.
In 2019, when WeWork first embarked on its efforts to go public under founder and former chief executive Adam Neumann, the proposed share sale imploded spectacularly after IPO investors balked at the company's hefty losses, Neumann's management style, and WeWork's corporate governance lapses.
Once seen as a prized bet for SoftBank chief Masayoshi Son who personally backed Neumann, the Japanese conglomerate was forced to bail out WeWork after its valuation was slashed from a lofty $47 billion to $8 billion following the botched offering that threatened the company's survival.
Son was subsequently forced to concede that betting big on WeWork was a mistake.
WeWork is yet to turn a profit. It reported a net loss attributable to the company of $888.85 million in the second quarter, compared with $863.83 million a year earlier.
Shares of the loss-making company, which in March struck a $9-billion go-public deal with blank-check acquisition firm BowX Acquisition Corp, were up 10.79% at $11.50 in afternoon trade.
Neumann continues to hold a sizable stake in the business, valued at nearly $1 billion, and under the terms of his exit package from WeWork, he will be eligible to observe board meetings from next year, even though he is not a board member anymore.
Neumann's name can be seen dozens of times through the business combination filing, even though he holds no executive roles at WeWork anymore.
Neumann also played an indirect role in helping put together the SPAC deal, Reuters reported in March, and according to a report from the New York Times on Thursday, Neumann and WeWork's co-founder Miguel McKelvey held a party on Thursday to celebrate the listing.
The real test for WeWork will start now, experts say, as most companies around the world have adopted hybrid work models and in several instances, a complete shift to work from home even after widespread vaccinations.
"Investors are betting that the company has switched from a model of focusing on growing its office space to a model of focusing on cutting losses and becoming profitable."
(Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; Editing by Anirban Sen and Shinjini Ganguli)