LivingSocial records net loss of $650 million for 2012


LivingSocial’s founders in 2011. LivingSocial posted a net loss of $650 million last year, according to regulatory filings, driven in part by the declining value of several overseas companies it bought in a rapid quest for global expansion. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)
January 30, 2013

District-based daily deal purveyor LivingSocial recorded a net loss of $650 million for 2012, according to a regulatory filing, putting a lackluster cap on 12 months that saw its once-meteoric rise slow significantly.

A company initially known for rapid global expansion, Living­Social began to retreat in 2012. The company closed some overseas operations, wrote down the value of others, reshuffled its executive ranks and let go 10 percent of its workforce.

The financial results were reported in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing from online retailer Amazon.com, which owns 29 percent of the firm. As a private company, Living­Social does not disclose its own financial figures.

Amazon said in the filing that the book value of its LivingSocial investment was $52 million as of Dec. 31. Amazon has invested as much as $200 million in the company during its period of speedy growth.

LivingSocial declined to comment on the filings. In an interview in December after the job cuts, LivingSocial spokesman Andrew Weinstein said, “We’ve had three years of extraordinary, nearly unprecedented growth, and this is a natural step to take a pause and make sure we are positioned for continued growth and profitability.”

“These were painful decisions,” Weinstein added, “but they allow us to invest in critical areas like mobile and marketing in 2013. This industry is still very, very young, and we’ve learned a lot about how to succeed in it.”

Young Internet companies can often take several years to reach profitability, and LivingSocial is no exception. The company’s $650 million net loss in 2012 compares with a net loss of $499 million in 2011, when its pace of hiring and acquisitions was at its fastest.

There was a bright spot in Amazon’s filing: LivingSocial’s revenue, it reported, climbed to $536 million in 2012, more than double the $250 million it raked in the year before. That increase is largely attributed to daily deal revenue from the United States and successful overseas markets, such as South Korea, as well as its newer lines of business.

A source close to LivingSocial said chief executive Tim O’Shaughnessy told employees in a meeting last week that the company is expected to turn a profit sometime this spring. (O’Shaughnessy is the son-in-law of Donald E. Graham, Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive.)

“It’s very tough in eight lines of someone else’s filings to be able to parse out what the business story is behind” the loss, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of deference to Amazon, which did not return calls seeking comment.

Throughout the year, Living­Social shuttered operations in the Middle East, Netherlands and Mexico. It then recorded an impairment charge of $579 million in the third quarter after several newly acquired companies proved to be less valuable than LivingSocial anticipated.

“Even if it was a one-time write-down in value, it’s another marker for how that business in general is struggling in the international arena,” said Daniel Kurnos, an analyst at Benchmark, a market research firm.

In November, the company eliminated about 400 jobs in the United States, including 160 positions in the District.

LivingSocial has added new lines of business, pitching offers such as travel getaways, restaurant takeout and live events, but has yet to replicate the initial success it found delivering regular discounts to subscribers’ e-mail boxes.

“The question is: Does the market still have growth potential?” Kurnos said. “I think the answer is yes, but it may not be to the same level it was initially perceived to be.”

Thomas Heath contributed to this report

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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