WeWork’s days of breakneck expansion are over, at least for now.
New leases by the flexible office firm nosedived in New York and London, its top two markets, in the final quarter of last year, CoStar Group Inc. data show. It signed just 64,000 square feet (5,946 square meters) of space in Manhattan, the lowest in more than five years, while the 49,000 square feet in London was the least since the U.K.’s Brexit vote in the second quarter of 2016.
The sharp brake on expansion followed the company’s decision to shelve a planned initial public offering in September last year and its subsequent rescue by major backer Softbank Group Corp., which agreed to take majority control of the company the following month.
We Co., WeWork’s parent, expanded rapidly in New York and London, becoming both cities’ largest private-sector tenant thanks to piles of venture funding and a founder focused on breakneck growth. While that helped catapult the firm to briefly become America’s most richly valued private start up, it also sparked intense scrutiny about the sustainability of that growth which contributed to the ouster of founder Adam Neumann.
The sharp slowdown in leasing in the three months through December follows a surge in new signings in the run-up to the company’s planned IPO, as it sought to present investors with a compelling growth story.
“Following a month of record new building openings in December, WeWork continues to grow our community globally, including in top markets like New York and London,” a spokeswoman said by email. “The company is focused on profitable growth and expects to expand through new leases as well as asset-light strategies such as joint ventures and management agreements.”
WeWork’s new-found caution has failed to significantly dent leasing volumes in the world’s top office markets, as technology companies like Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. continue to expand their footprints.
Still, the firm’s travails have prompted a wider slowdown in the expansion of the flexible office market that had become a major source of demand for new buildings, according to Victor Rodriguez, an associate director for analytics at CoStar.
“The growth-at-all-costs model has largely been abandoned,” Rodriguez said. “Firms in this sector are now focused on making a profit rather than opening a new location.”
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