The Inside Story Of How The Peloton CEO Got Into $300M Margin Call Trouble Borrowing Against A Speculative Stock

The Inside Story Of How The Peloton CEO Got Into $300M Margin Call Trouble Borrowing Against A Speculative Stock

Peloton CEO

Former Peloton CEO John Foley celebrates the company's IPO at the Nasdaq opening bell, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)

John Foley, the co-founder and CEO of the stationary bike and fitness company Peloton, whose share price spun into the stratosphere at the start of the covid-19 pandemic before falling 95 percent, faced repeated margin calls on money he borrowed against his holdings, according to people familiar with the situation.

Foley resigned from the Peloton board on Sept. 12. His stake in the company, worth $1.5 billion a year ago, is now worth less than $100 million.

Peloton shares were trading at $8.54 as of this writing, after falling as low as $6.93 on Sept. 29 and 30 from a $160 peak in December 2020.

The company makes money selling fitness products such as stationary bikes, fitness class subscription services so users could take online spin classes at home, and selling apparel and accessories. Bikes range in price from $1,495 to $2,495. Bikes and treadmills represented 78-to-80 percent of Peloton’s total revenue.

As Peloton’s shares plummeted over the past year, Goldman Sachs Group asked Foley several times to produce fresh funds or additional collateral for personal loans the bank had extended to him, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

A margin call usually means that securities held in a margin account have decreased in value. When a margin call happens, the investor must choose to either deposit more funds in the account or sell some of the assets held in the account.

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In July, Oppenheimer analyst Brian Nagel called Peloton stock “highly speculative in nature.” The company’s “story has morphed rapidly from promising tech unicorn to covid-19 winner, to post-pandemic victim,” Nagel said. “Through the lens of analysts with long-standing backgrounds in consumer and fitness, we restudied carefully PTON and the company’s unique business model. Significant challenges for Peloton remain. That said, we believe that within the dynamic and fragmented health and wellness segment, there exists opportunity for a better managed and more-disciplined PTON.”

Resigning from the board gave Foley flexibility to sell more Peloton shares. “I didn’t resign from the board because I was underwater,” Foley said. “To the extent that I took on debt through Goldman, it was because I am bullish on Peloton… It was and is a great company.”

The former Peloton chairman and CEO pledged about 3.5 million Peloton shares as collateral by the end of September 2021 worth more than $300 million — about 20 percent of his stake at the time, according to securities filings. At today’s prices, the shares are worth about $30 million.

Foley was able to get private financing and avoid stock sales by Goldman, WSJ reported.

Business Insider reported in March that Foley was talking to Goldman about restructuring his personal loans. Foley hasn’t reported any stock or option sales since March.

Peloton has had four rounds of layoffs this year, letting go of thousands of workers to cut losses, including a round last week. In August, the company reported its first-ever quarter with no growth in subscriber numbers and a $1.2 billion loss.

After announcing a hiring freeze, Foley was criticized in December for spending lavishly on a black-tie holiday party. Also in December, Foley paid $55 million to for an oceanfront mansion in East Hampton, N.Y., according to real-estate records and people familiar with the transaction. He and his wife put their Manhattan penthouse up for sale in September for $6.5 million.

In its annual report filed in September, Peloton warned that investors could be harmed if its stock fell and executives were forced to sell shares.

Goldman Sachs was one of the lead underwriters of Peloton’s initial public offering in 2019, and has worked closely with the company, including when Foley was the CEO, WSJ reported. Goldman bankers also co-led a $1 billion stock offering in November 2021.