Mar 20, 2020 - Economy

Airbnb looks for backups to going public amid coronavirus downturn

An illustration of a money sign with a keyhole in it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Airbnb may not be through with the private markets after all, as CNBC reports that the room rental giant is fielding offers from large investment firms, although pricing remains unclear.

Why it matters: 2020 was supposed to be the year that Airbnb went public, either through an IPO or a direct listing (or a combination of the two).

  • But there already was talk before the coronavirus crisis that the company was hedging a bit on timing, and right now there's no way any company — let alone a hospitality company — can successfully run a large float process (even via Zoom).
  • Airbnb last sold stock to VCs at a $31 billion valuation in late 2017. It later sold common stock at a $35 billion valuation, via its purchase of HotelTonight, and in early 2019 had an internal 409a valuation of $38 billion.

The state of play: For Airbnb, this would be protection money. The company does have plenty of cash on hand, and tells Axios that it has not yet laid off any employees, but its quarterly losses climbed in 2019 and its early 2020 results are bound to be abysmal as global travel has ground to a halt.

  • For investors, it's an opportunistic bet based on the belief that everything will be back to normal, or somewhat normal, at some point this year. If you believed a month ago that Airbnb would be a $50 billion public company by year-end, then it could make sense to buy in now in the $20 billion range — particularly as some of the company's hotel rivals may buckle under the weight of their fixed costs.

The bottom line: Dealmaking remains active, including for very well-known names. Just not the deals we were expecting to see.

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