Online pet food, toy store Chewy soars in Wall Street debut

Joseph Pisani
Associated Press
The facade of the New York Stock Exchange is decorated for the Chewy IPO, Friday, June 14, 2019.

It was raining cats and dogs on Wall Street.

Chewy, the online seller of pet food and squeaky toys, made a strong showing in its debut on the New York Stock Exchange Friday, with investors banking on the growing pet industry.

Its shares soared 59% Friday under the symbol “CHWY,” putting the company’s market value at about $14 billion.

Chewy may bring to mind the failed online pet stores of the 1990s. For starters, it has never made a profit. Last year, it lost $267.9 million on revenue of $3.53 billion.

But a lot has changed since the days of People are accustomed to buying nearly anything online. And pets are more pampered: Americans spent $72.6 billion on their furry friends last year, more than triple the amount spent two decades ago, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Founded in 2011, Chewy and was bought six years later by pet store chain PetSmart for more than $3 billion. Even after the initial public offering, PetSmart is Chewy’s largest shareholder.

The company, based in Dania Beach, Florida, says most of its sales come from shoppers who have signed up for automatic shipments of their pet supplies. That gives Chewy a steady stream of revenue and additional time to plan shipments from its seven warehouses around the country.

To grow, Chewy plans to create more in-house pet food brands, expand its year-old animal pharmacy and venture beyond the U.S.

Despite its losses, demand for Chewy’s IPO was high. It raised just over $1 billion, with 46.5 million shares sold at $22 each. That was above the stock price the company had expected to fetch.

Shares closed at $34.99 Friday after rising as high as $41.34 during the day.

PetSmart acquired Chewy in 2017, paying about $3 billion for the company. PetSmart last year pegged the value of Chewy at $4.45 billion in private documents shared with investors, according to people with knowledge of those documents.

The offering was the sixth-biggest out of 78 in the U.S. this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s one of only 10 IPOs for online product retailers globally to exceed $1 billion, a group that includes the 2014 Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. $25 billion listing, the largest-ever.

Americans spent more than $72 billion on their pets last year, with Chewy’s 31% of U.S. online sales surpassed only by Inc.’s 55% share, according to the American Pet Products Association. The Chewy site, which started in 2011, logged sales of $3.53 billion for the year ended Feb. 3, up from $2.1 billion from the previous fiscal year, according to the company’s prospectus.

“Pet parents” continue to spend even in times of economic uncertainty. During the 2008 to 2010 recession, overall consumer spending in the U.S. declined, while pet spending increased by 12%, Chewy has said, citing APPA.

Chewy plans to continue growing by expanding its private-label products and health services including prescription drugs, Chief Executive Officer Sumit Singh said in an interview.

“Our active customers spend more and more the longer they stay with us,” Singh said. “We have a lot more to do out there, a lot more customers to add.”

Chewy’s IPO should give some financial relief to PetSmart, which is saddled with more than $8 billion of debt due over the next six years. After Chewy raised the price range for its IPO on Wednesday, PetSmart’s bonds rallied to the highest level in two years. Its bonds due in 2023 and 2025 were among the top in the U.S. high-yield market on Friday, according to Trace bond trading data.

“A strong public-market showing by Chewy will be a positive due to the increased asset coverage it implies and the possibility that some of those assets will be monetized and used to pay down debt in the future,” said Ben Briggs, a high yield and distressed credit analyst with INTL FCStone.

After the IPO, Chewy expects to obtain a new revolving credit facility with covenants, including requirements that it maintain certain financial ratios.

Bloomberg News and The Associated Press contributed.