Airbnb's next 2 months

Fully Charged

Hey, it's Olivia Carville here. After a long list of unexpected delays, including a global pandemic, a divisive presidential election and skittishness about making news on Friday the 13th, Airbnb Inc.'s pre-initial public offering filing is finally here. The 350-page document landed on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission website shortly before 5 p.m. New York time on Monday, which meant that journalists, analysts and investors were up until the early hours of the morning on Tuesday combing through it (myself included). 

The filing represents the first detailed glimpse into Airbnb's financials, its business operations and the extent of the damage wrought by the coronavirus. (The term "Covid-19" appeared 215 times in the document.) But there are still some lingering questions about the company's post-pandemic future. 

As Airbnb pitches itself to investors ahead of a possible December listing, here's what they're likely to be asking about: 

  • Exclusivity, or lack thereof. In the filing, Airbnb says it "believes" the majority of its more than 7 million listings are only available on its platform, but doesn't elaborate. The company also says that hosts cross-listing their properties on rival platforms is a risk to its future growth. Investors will want more detailed data on how many of Airbnb's hosts and guests are loyal to it alone, and how many are also patronizing competitors. 
  • Party problems. After a shooting inside an Airbnb left five people dead last year, renting out houses for parties became a national issue. The pandemic exacerbated the problem as city nightlife shut down and party promoters started renting out homes instead. In the filing, Airbnb says activities like unauthorized parties have already exposed it to litigation relating to fatalities, shootings and the spread of Covid-19. Going forward, cracking down on this kind of behavior could cost a lot of money, the filing says, and might not even work. 
  • How's Experiences going? It's not clear. Financial information for Airbnb's tourism activities unit wasn't broken out from its other businesses. Airbnb Experiences—which allows guests to book city tours, cooking classes or mermaid swimming lessons—has been a pet project of Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky. But observers have speculated that the endeavor is a money-loser. The filing pegged the total addressable market for Experiences at $1.4 trillion—a figure Mark Shmulik, an analyst at Bernstein, described as "eyebrow raising." 
  • Domestic travel. Airbnb's recovery after the early stages of the pandemic was swifter than rivals'. This rebound was driven almost entirely by domestic travel, or stays within a 50-mile radius of a traveler's home, as people took advantage of work-from-anywhere policies. Pre-pandemic, domestic travel made up only 52% of Airbnb's business. It's now almost 80%. How long can that last? And will lingering coronavirus outbreaks limit growth? 
  • What will it do with the money? Airbnb is said to be planning to raise $3 billion in the IPO. Will that go toward growth or expenses? The company may seek to pay off the $2 billion in high-interest loans it took out in April. Could the rest end up going to the tax man? The filing says the Internal Revenue Service is coming after Airbnb for a potential tax expense of $1.35 billion, plus penalties and interest, related to the sale of intellectual property to a subsidiary in 2013. Though the company has said it will "vigorously contest" the charge.

Taxes won't be the only legal battle for Airbnb. Even if the business is running perfectly, it will still have to convince cities to hold off on sharing economy regulations. But with billions in revenue, and at least one profitable quarter this year, none of that's likely to stop Airbnb from being one of 2020's biggest IPOs. Olivia Carville

If you read one thing

Robinhood is looking for help with a possible IPO next year. The popular free stock-trading app is said to be asking banks to pitch for roles in a public market debut that could come as soon as the first quarter of 2021, Bloomberg reported. 

And here's what you need to know in global technology news

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey answered questions from angry Senators on Tuesday. At the hearing, lawmakers from both parties called for rethinking the law that protects social media companies from liability for user content. 

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he'd fired Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Krebs, a former executive at Microsoft, said that the November election was "the most secure in American history," angering the president

Amazon unveiled a new push into prescription drugs, sending drug store stocks tumbling. 

Twitter has some new products: Fleets, Twitter's version of Snapchat Stories, is now available globally. Spaces, a new audio feature that's still in development, won't be tested until later this year. 


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