When it comes to cautionary global business tales, all roads seem to lead to WeWork. I have been thinking about the short-term office space company, and not only because of the lawsuit some of its board members issued last week against investor SoftBank over its decision to pull out of a share buyout.
What is striking is the broader lessons WeWork’s travails provide — especially for a post-Covid-19 world. Among them: debt matters; corporate valuations were unsustainable even before the crisis; nobody is going to be rushing to lease office space anytime soon; and real estate in many parts of both the residential and commercial sectors has far, far further to fall.
The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a corporate debt crisis that has been long coming. WeWork epitomises the excess that led to this crash. Its troubles also offer a hint of what is still to come — namely a long period of falling property prices in prime global cities in North America and parts of Europe, as the second big global real estate bubble of this millennium deflates.
Much has been written about how Covid-19 will reshape travel, tourism and retail. Less has been said about what it will mean for real estate. But this sector plays a far greater role in the global economy than the former two.