As Businesses Close, WeWork Tries to Lure Workers Back

SoftBank in recent months has plowed $1.5 billion into the company in return for new stock, and says it stands behind another $4 billion of debt financing. But if SoftBank walks away from the tender offer and withdraws the $1.1 billion loan, landlords that lease office space to WeWork may begin to doubt SoftBank’s commitment to the business.

SoftBank is facing its own pressures. The company and its $100 billion Vision Fund have stakes in many young companies that were struggling well before the virus hit. In an effort to allay the concerns of investors, SoftBank said on Monday that it would sell assets worth up to $41 billion to buy back $18 billion worth of shares and pay down debt. Its shares soared Tuesday on the news but were still down by a third from the high they reached last month.

“WeWork is not SoftBank’s only drama child,” Ms. Bryan of Bond Angle said.

SoftBank’s new hardened stance toward WeWork could be a negotiating tactic aimed at forcing other investors, including Benchmark Capital and Adam Neumann, WeWork’s co-founder and former chief executive, to accept a lower price.

The other shareholders are fighting back. On Sunday, two WeWork board members — Bruce Dunlevie, a founding partner of Benchmark Capital, and Lew Frankfort, the former chief executive of Coach, who make up a board committee created last year to evaluate its financing options — said in a statement that SoftBank was “obligated to consummate the tender offer” and that “its excuses for not trying to close are inappropriate and dishonest.” Benchmark, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm, applied to sell its entire WeWork stake in the tender offer, according to the person briefed on the deal. Mr. Dunlevie did not respond to a request for comment.

If SoftBank walks away from the offer and WeWork doesn’t get the loans it is counting on, the company could be in peril, analysts say.

“Business disruption related to the global recession, spread of coronavirus and uncertainty surrounding SoftBank’s longer term commitment to WeWork has placed added pressure on the long-term viability of the company,” Standard & Poor’s said in a statement on Monday to explain why it was downgrading WeWork’s credit rating further into junk status. WeWork’s bonds have plunged to levels that suggest investors believe a default is likely.

An immediate problem for WeWork is convincing people that the company is responding appropriately to the coronavirus outbreak. Some employees and customers have questioned WeWork’s decision to keep locations open.

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