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为让公司元老少交税,WeWork谋求以伞型结构上市

David Z. Morris 2019年08月14日

与传统的股权结构相比,这种结构将为公司的创始人和早期投资人带来税收上的优势。

2019年1月9日,加州洛杉矶微软中心,WeWork公司CEO亚当·纽曼在WeWork第二届年度创造者大奖全球总决赛上讲话。图片来源:Michael Kovac—Getty Images for WeWork

由软银支持的共享办公室公司WeWork正在计划以一种很少见的股权结构上市。与传统的股权结构相比,这种结构将为公司的创始人和早期投资人带来税收上的优势。根据《金融时报》看到的相关文件,这家创业公司(正式名称叫The We Company)将采取所谓的“伞型合伙公司”结构,简称“Up-C”结构。

The We Company的股权调整预计在IPO之前就会完成。它的现有架构本身就是要为WeWork向健身和其他业务领域的扩张提供一个“保护伞”。而在这次调整后,The We Company有限责任公司将被置于另一家控股公司之下。IPO投资者将会获得这家控股公司的股份,而不是直接获得The We Company有限责任公司的股份。而CEO亚当·诺伊曼等WeWork的创始人和早期投资人则能够直接获得The We Company有限责任公司的股权。WeWork的利润则会在控股公司和有限责任公司之间分享。

这样做的意义是,包括CEO诺曼在内的各位拥有有限责任公司股权的元老,只需要按照个人所得税的税率为其利润缴税。而IPO投资者们则既要为企业利润缴税,还要对股票的所有分红缴纳个人所得税。

复兴资本的高级IPO市场战略师马修·肯尼迪表示:“这也是一种让内部人受益的做法。‘Up-C’结构创造了一种税收保护机制,公司内部人可以以此为自己谋求利益。这样一来,该公司本来可以省下来的现金也就没有了,而且The We Company还得向美国国税局缴纳更多的税款。”

The We Company拒绝了我们的置评请求。

当然,除非有朝一日The We Company扭亏为盈了,否则这一切都没有意义。而许多观察人士都认为,The We Company在短期内没有任何盈利的可能。2018年,The We Company的亏损达到19.3亿美元。外界还担心,在大环境日益低迷的背景下,WeWork的大量长期租约是否会令它面临更大的风险。就连它目前的租用率也严重依赖于风投资本提供的巨额补贴。另外,外界对它的杠杆率也很担心,有些银行甚至拒绝让WeWork完全出租他们贷款的办公楼。

所有创业公司都想尽量提高杠杆率(甚至包括一些估值与科技创业公司相当的房地产公司),这不足为奇。而WeWork领导层想方设法避税的行径,也体现出了它奉行的损公肥私文化,这也不禁让我们对该公司的前景感到一丝不安。有传闻称,CEO纽曼通过将自己名下的房地产租给公司,其个人已经赚了几千万美元。还有消息称,今年7月,纽曼通过一系列抛售和股票贷款等手段,已经成功变现了他持有的价值7亿多美元的公司股份。

至于投资者对他们的这些做法怎么看,我们很快就能够知道了——该公司很可能在今年9月就会举行IPO。(财富中文网)

译者:朴成奎

WeWork, the SoftBank-backed office-leasing-and-other-stuff company, is planning to go to public markets with an exotic corporate structure that gives founders and early investors a tax advantage compared to public investors. According to documents seen by the Financial Times, the startup (formally The We Company), will become what’s known as an umbrella partnership corporation, or Up-C.

The structure is being put in place ahead of an expected IPO. It would put the We Company MC LLC—already intended to be an umbrella for WeWork’s expansion into fitness and other ventures—under a holding company. IPO investors would get shares in the holding company rather than directly in the LLC, while founders and early investors including CEO Adam Neumann would have direct stakes in the LLC. Profits would be shared between the LLC and the holding company.

The upshot is that Neumann and other insiders with direct stakes in the LLC would pay taxes on profits at individual income tax rates, while IPO investors would pay both US taxes on corporate profits, and individual taxes on any dividends.

“This is another move that enriches insiders,” said Matthew Kennedy, Senior IPO Market Strategist at Renaissance Capital. “Up-C creates a tax shield, and insiders are taking that benefit for themselves. So the cash savings that the company would have had are gone, and We Co. will therefore be making higher payments to the IRS.”

The We Company declined a request for comment on the report.

Of course, none of this would seem to matter unless We manages to someday turn a profit, which many observers consider a longshot at best. The We Company’s losses for 2018 were $1.93 billion, and there are concerns over whether its raft of long-term leases leave it even more exposed in the case of a broader downturn. Even its current occupancy rates depend on huge subsidies funded by venture capital, and there’s enough concern about the company’s leverage that some banks have refused to let WeWork fully lease buildings they finance.

While being leveraged to the hilt is par for the course for tech startups (and even for real estate companies valued like tech startups), the tax maneuvering adds to more uniquely troubling hints of a culture of self-dealing by We Company leadership. Among the claims: that CEO Neumann had personally made millions by leasing real estate he owned to the company. In July, it was revealed that Neumann had liquidated more than $700 million worth of his stake in the company through a mix of sales and loans against stock.

It will quickly become clear how investors feel about these moves: An IPO could reportedly happen as soon as September.

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