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WeWork IPO: This Accounting Rule Change is ‘Crushing’ the Company’s Financials

WeWork has its work cut out for them.

The company now known as The We Company finally dropped their IPO filing on Wednesday—and boy oh boy, was it a lot to unpack.

While investors and analysts alike are examining WeWork's plan for profitability, astounding losses (to the tune of net $904 million so far for 2019), and 3 share class structure, one major thing is impacting their balance sheet—an accounting rule change.

In 2016, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued an accounting rule change, ASC 842, stating that right-of-use assets and lease liabilities for leases of more than 12 months need to be recognized on the lessee's balance sheet—or in other words, WeWork's bread and butter, leases, need to be accounted for as on-balance sheet liabilities.

Previously, under ASC 840, companies were permitted to categorize capital and operating leases differently, and only report operating leases in the footnotes of their financial documents (or, off-balance sheet). But some experts believe the accounting change will better help reflect the actual liabilities a company like WeWork is undertaking for the future.

And according to Richard Trimber, senior counsel of the corporate practice group at General Counsel, P.C., the new accounting concept is "crushing" WeWork's balance sheet.

“Without that, their balance sheet would be in much better shape if they could account for the old way," Trimber told Fortune.

In fact, WeWork's liabilities (in the form of long-term lease obligations) increased over 600% from 2018, from $2.88 million to a whopping $17.91 million in 2019—all because of accounting requirements.

The company noted under the risk section in their newly-minted S-1 that "the adoption of ASC 842 had a material impact on our consolidated balance sheet," with "lease right-of-use assets, net totaling approximately $15 billion and lease obligations totaling approximately $18 billion included on our interim condensed consolidated balance sheet" as of June this year.

Basically, this means that WeWork needs to report any lease longer than 12 months on their balance sheet as a long-term lease liability. And to some experts, the massive impact the accounting rule change had on the company's balance sheet is certainly telling.

“For the benefit of the shareholders, they can go, ‘wait, this is a company that is not very strong financially. The balance sheet strength is very poor, and they better have better execution ... in order to stay ahead of the liabilities that are chasing them down," Trimber says. In fact, Trimber suggests the accounting rule change is a blessing for those looking into WeWork's filing, given "the transparency it gives you" in the context of the "ponderous liabilities that are weighing this thing down from the top."

Others think the rule, which was implemented on WeWork's 2019 figures but not 2017 or 2018, is helpful in giving investors a more holistic look at what the company is really working with.

"It will be a clear reminder to investors of the long-term liabilities the company has undertaken to serve the mostly short-term agreements they have with their own clients," David Snider, founder and CEO of Harness Wealth, told Fortune earlier this week. And to Trimber, the massive change in WeWork's balance sheet should "bespeak caution on this latest 'unicorn.'" 

It seems WeWork is fully aware of the impact the FASB rule is having. The company referenced the rule, ASC 842, 44 times in the filing.

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