February 26, 2024

DealBook: Accounting Change Cuts Groupon’s Revenue

Andrew Mason, Groupon's chief executive.Seongjoon Cho/Bloomberg NewsAndrew Mason, Groupon’s chief executive.

8:56 p.m. | Updated

Groupon disclosed a major accounting change on Friday, essentially halving its once-jaw-dropping revenue after it encountered resistance from regulators with its filing to go public.

Groupon, the online coupon titan, announced separately that its chief operating officer of about five months, Margo Georgiadis, had stepped down.

The changes in the revised filing and the executive departure are likely to spur additional questions about Groupon, a much-envied rising star in the constellation of new Internet companies. The company has grown rapidly, but its ability to sustain that growth, the ways it measures growth and the eccentric public persona of its chief executive have come under fire at times.

Despite those criticisms, and the current turmoil in the stock market, Groupon is still aiming to go public next month, people briefed on the matter have said. That offering could value Groupon at more than $15 billion.

The company’s revised filing for an initial public offering also incorporated portions of a memorandum sent to employees by the company’s chief executive, Andrew Mason, that were subsequently leaked to the press. Analysts had questioned whether that letter ran afoul of a mandatory “quiet period” for companies seeking to go public.

The revenue accounting change is Groupon’s second since it filed to go public in May. Early last month, it removed references to an accounting metric that critics said misleadingly showed the company turning a profit.

In its latest filing, Groupon says that it has restated its financial results for the last three years “to correct for an error” in the way it reported revenue. Before, the company reported as revenue all the money it collected from customers, including cash that was later paid out to Groupon’s merchant partners.

Now, Groupon is reporting what it calls “net revenues,” which exclude the retailer payouts.

For example, in a version of the prospectus filed last month, Groupon reported $1.52 billion in revenue for the first six months of the year. In Friday’s filing, that number is now called net revenue and is $688 million. The original $1.52 billion figure is now counted as gross billings.

Groupon’s accounting change is the inverse of what Google did before its own public debut in 2004. The search giant initially excluded cash that was shared with distribution partners in its revenue figures. It later changed its revenue to include those payouts.

The revenue restatements do not affect the company’s bottom line: Groupon still reported a $253.9 million loss attributable to common shareholders for the same time period. Nor do they affect the company’s preferred business performance metrics, including a pro forma measure known as consolidated segment operating income.

The new “net revenue” metric replaces what Groupon once called “gross profit,” a measure that has appeared in previous filings.

Groupon’s latest prospectus is meant to address concerns by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which regularly reviews initial offering filings.

The agency has raised several questions about the company, like its accounting measures and statements made by senior executives during its quiet period. In that time, companies are supposed to refrain from making public comments about their business performance, in an effort to tamp down on improper stock-promoting.

But earlier this year, Groupon’s chairman, Eric Lefkofsky, said publicly that the company would be “wildly profitable.” And the letter from Mr. Mason, the chief executive, included detailed descriptions of Groupon’s recent business performance. Groupon’s solution in both cases was to include both sets of comments, along with a warning to potential investors not to rely on them for planning purposes.

But the S.E.C. is not Groupon’s only headache. Ms. Georgiadis is the second chief operating officer the company has lost in two years. She will return to her former employer, Google, as president of the Americas.

Her predecessor at Groupon, Rob Solomon, worked at the company for about a year before departing in March. “As a fast-growing company, we’ve done a lot of hiring this year, including on our senior executive team,” Mr. Mason wrote in a blog post announcing Ms. Georgiadis’s departure. “It would have been great if I could say that we batted 1,000 percent, but that’s rarely the case.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=80f9e1267fb3053dbdb7e4d7540f9f5f

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