OneConnect’s drastic IPO value cut underscores the risk of high-growth, high-burn companies

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OneConnect’s U.S.-listed IPO flew under our radar last week, which won’t do. The company’s public offering is both interesting and important, so let’s take a few minutes this morning to understand what we missed and why we care.

The now-public company sells financial technology that banks in China and select foreign countries can use to bring their services into the modern era. OneConnect charges mostly for usage of its products, driving over three-quarters of its revenue from transactions, including API calls.

After pricing its shares at $10 apiece, the SoftBank Vision Fund-backed company wrapped last week worth the same: $10 per share.

One one hand, OneConnect is merely another China-based IPO listing domestically here in the United States, making it merely one member of a crowd. So, why do we care about its listing?

A few reasons. We care because the listing is another liquidity event for SoftBank and its Vision Fund. As the Japanese conglomerate revs up its second Vision Fund cycle (Vision Fund 2, more here), returns and proof of its ability to pick winners and fuel them with capital are key. OneConnect’s success as a public company, therefore, matters.

And for us market observers, the debut is doubly exciting from a financial perspective. No, OneConnect doesn’t make money (very much the opposite). What’s curious about the company is that it brought huge losses to sale when it was pitching its equity. Which, in a post-WeWork world, are supposed to be out of style. Let’s see how well it priced.

What’s it worth?

OneConnect targeted a $9 to $10 per-share IPO price. That makes its final, $10 per-share pricing the top of its range. That said, given how narrow its range was, the result doesn’t look like much of a coup for the company. That’s doubly true when we recall that OneConnect lowered its IPO price range from $12 to $14 per share (a more standard price band) to the lower figures. So, the company managed to price at the top of its expectations, but only after those were cut to size.

When it all wrapped, OneConnect was worth about $3.7 billion at its IPO price, according to math from The New York Times. TechCrunch’s own calculations value the firm at a slightly richer $3.8 billion. Regardless, the figure was a disappointment.

When OneConnect raised from SoftBank’s Vision Fund in early 2018, $650 million was invested at a $6.8 billion pre-money valuation, according to Crunchbase data. That put a $7.45 billion post-money price tag on the Ping An-sourced business. To see the company forced to cut its IPO valuation so far is difficult for OneConnect itself, its parent Ping An and its backer SoftBank.

Why so little?

I promised to be brief when we started, so let’s stay curt: OneConnect’s business was worth far less than expected because while it posted impressive revenue gains, the company’s deep unprofitability made it less palatable than expected to public investors.

OneConnect managed to post revenue growth of more than 70% in the first three quarters of 2019, expanding top line to $217.5 million in the period. However, during that time it generated just $70.9 million in gross profit, the sum it could use to cover its operating costs. The company’s cost structure, however, was far larger than its gross profit.

Over the same nine-month period, OneConnect’s sales and marketing costs alone outstripped its total gross profit. All told, OneConnect posted operating costs of $227.6 million in the first three quarters of 2019, leading to an operating loss of $156.6 million in the period.

The company will, therefore, burn lots of cash as it grows; OneConnect is still deep in its investment motion, and far from the sort of near-profitability that we hear is in vogue. In a sense, OneConnect bears the narrative out. It had to endure a sharp valuation reduction to get out. You can see the market’s changed mood in that fact alone.

Photo by Roberto Júnior on Unsplash





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