How's this for trenchant financial analysis from Bill Ackman, one of the boldest bold-faced names in the hedge fund business: SoftBank might end up writing down the entirety of its WeWork investment (including the $6 billion it just shelled out to wrest control of the firm away from Adam Neumann and his family).
Of course, that's not exactly a cutting-edge call. WeWork's unmatched fall from grace in August and September, which culminated with the shelving of its IPO and the collapse of a $6 billion JPM-led syndicated loan lifeline that was contingent on the offering, the company's situation has gone from bad to worse. The company has been forced to put off a planned round of lease-signings and expansions, including possibly moving its headquarters to Manhattan's Lord & Taylor Building, where the company holds an overpriced lease despite its former CEO owning a piece of the building. On the operations end, its business in China is bleeding capital, and the company has nearly $60 billion in long-term lease commitments, a number that is looking more daunting by the day.
But Ackman's call arrives at a special time during the WeWork media dogpile. Ackman is only just recovering from a series of wrong-headed calls that nearly tanked his firm and career. Apparently, he thinks its finally "safe" to call WeWork a "0", according to the FT. His LPs are no doubt watching.
And exactly how confident is Ackman? Pretty confident, he say.
"I think WeWork has a pretty high probability of being a zero for the equity, as well as for the debt," the billionaire hedge fund manager said.
Ackman described Neumann as an amazing salesman (clearly, it takes a gifted charlatan to separate Masayoshi Son from his money), but that the company had become "enormously levered" too soon.
And speaking from experience, he warned SoftBank about continuing to throw good money after bad.
"As someone who has put good money after bad, I think this looks like putting good money after bad, and SoftBank should have walked away."
At this point, Ackman and the others who have said SoftBank should expect to eat its entire investment are only a little more aggressive than the ratings agencies. Fitch Ratings warned on Tuesday that WeWork had "minimal headroom" to weather an economic slowdown or management misstep. SoftBank's most recent cash infusion was "the effective minimum" the company needed to finance its existing operations and make it through a restructuring that is expected to cost 4,000 jobs.