Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Not So Much on Groupon IPO Delay, But SEC Scrutiny Still a Drag

Earlier today, CNBC reported that the regulatory review of Groupon’s questionable use of certain accounting metrics in its IPO filing was delaying its offering until later in September.

While more questions from the Securities and Exchange Commission about how it accounts for its revenue and profits might indeed eventually push the IPO debut out, according to sources I have interviewed for months now, an offering in mid to late September was actually when the social buying company was planning to take its company public.

It makes sense, since August is seldom used for road shows for companies headed for an IPO — think Wall Street in the Hamptons and you’ll get why.

That said, the continued scrutiny by the SEC is not a welcome development for Chicago-based Groupon, which filed its S-1 documents in June.

In coming weeks, sources said, the company will be filing new financial information about both its growth and costs, which will undoubtedly be put under a microscope by investors and regulators.

That’s no surprise since the contents of the original filing immediately caused controversy, especially over the amount of its venture funding paid out to insiders and also over an unusual accounting treatment called adjusted consolidated segment operating income, or Adjusted CSOI.

As I wrote at the time:

Let’s be clear, this is a number that does not include important costs, such as critical online marketing expenses to attract new customers to Groupon.
Such accounting is called non-GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).

In 2010 and the first quarter of 2011, Groupon said its Adjusted CSOI was $60.6 million and $81.6 million, respectively.

On a GAAP basis, Groupon lost $413.4 million million for 2010 and $113.9 million in the first three months of 2011.

Said Groupon about its accounting in its S-1 filing: “We believe Adjusted CSOI is an important measure of the performance of our business as it excludes expenses that are non-cash or otherwise not indicative of future operating expenses.”

Definitely sketchy enough to attract an SEC look-see, which caused Groupon to back away from Adjusted CSOI as a “valuation metric” in a recently amended S-1 filing. Groupon also stepped back a sloppy comment made after the filing by its Chairman Eric Lefkofsky — in a interview he apparently thought was off the record — that the company would be “wildly profitable.”

One thing is certain: There will surely be more amending of the Groupon S-1 in the weeks ahead as it stumbles toward its IPO, which will be one of the most prominent of the Web 2.0 era.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work