AshleyMadison's Second Attempt to Go Public Is in a Lot of TroubleKristen Schweizer, Ruth David and Scott Deveau
With its open encouragement of adultery and its tagline “Life is short, have an affair,” website AshleyMadison.com has already scuttled one planned offering of its shares. After the site was hacked this week, a second attempt to go public is looking increasingly unlikely.
Over the weekend, hackers said they captured sensitive data -- names, addresses, sexual proclivities, and more -- about millions of AshleyMadison customers. The company says it has secured the site and taken steps to protect the information.
While Avid Life Media Inc., the Toronto company that owns the site, may have the data breach under control, analysts say the hack exposed the vulnerabilities of the business. And would-be bankers who might handle its public offering are being even more discreet than its customers.
“After the cybersecurity issues, AshleyMadison.com is soiled goods,” said Alex DeGroote, a media analyst at brokerage Peel Hunt in London.
Avid Life in April said it planned to raise as much as $200 million in a London listing. Spokesman Paul Keable declined to comment on the attack’s impact on those plans or provide any details of investor meetings aimed at promoting the IPO.
“It’s far too early in the investigation to make any comment in relation to the impact on the business,” Keable said. “To be honest, given the news of this week, our focus is obviously elsewhere.”
Calls to more than a half-dozen investment banks in London that are among the most active in managing IPOs this year yielded no one who would speak about Avid Life on the record. On background, the bankers said they hadn’t heard anything about an investor roadshow or which of their competitors had agreed to manage the IPO. And three said their risk management departments wouldn’t be keen on any association with a site that encourages adultery.
“Banking groups face reputational risk in excess of any one-off fee gain from working with Avid Life,” said Neil Campling, a media analyst at Aviate Global, an advisory firm in London.
In 2010, Avid Life abandoned an offering in Toronto when the lead bank on the listing, GMP Securities LP, backed out after its chief executive was presented with details of the nature of AshleyMadison’s business. GMP didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
This time around, Avid Life decided to list in Europe, where more relaxed attitudes toward adultery will make it easier to sell shares, company executives have said. Avid Life had planned to list on London’s Alternative Investment Market, which hosts companies active in businesses ranging from gold to gambling. The exchange has less stringent listing requirements than bourses such as the New York Stock Exchange or the London Stock Exchange.
If the company were already traded, a hack might have spurred a drop of less than 10 percent in its shares, said Cyrus Mewawalla, an analyst at CM Research. But in the runup to the IPO, “this will have a big impact and they could delay it.”
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