The owners of Internet company GoDaddy Inc. plan to sell some of their shares to the public in an initial public offering. But they're quietly holding on to something that could prove very valuable: the vast majority of the company's tax assets.
In a prospectus filed Monday night, GoDaddy said its existing owners will keep approximately 85 percent of "certain tax savings" that become available as the company converts from a partnership to a corporation through the IPO. GoDaddy, which offers domain names and other Web services, is currently owned by funds including KKR, Silver Lake, and Technology Crossover Ventures, along with founder Bob Parsons.
What exactly are the owners keeping? Tax assets accumulate when companies lose money, because tax authorities often allow losses to be used as an offset to profits in the future. Satellite radio operator Sirius XM Radio, for instance, racked up several billion dollars in losses last decade, but was able to avoid paying taxes for years after it became profitable. In fact, the company has touted its previous losses as a major selling point.
GoDaddy also may have built up significant tax assets as a result of previous losses. The company had a cumulative net loss of $854 million between the start of 2011 and March 2014, according to its prospectus. Assuming a tax rate of 35 percent, those losses could be used to offset about $300 million in taxes, which would be a big boost to the company's bottom line one day.
Of course, the company still isn't generating any taxable income, so it's hard to say when the tax assets could be used. GoDaddy's prospectus doesn't even list net income as a "key metric." Instead, the company lists figures such as total customers, average revenue per user, and adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.
The company declined to comment and the current owners didn't respond to requests for comment from CNBC.
In the near term, investors in GoDaddy are likely to focus on the same metrics the company suggests. Total bookings rose 21 percent in the first quarter of 2014 to $439 million, while adjusted Ebitda rose 34 percent to $79.7 million.
But eventually, GoDaddy will hopefully begin generating taxable income. When that happens, GoDaddy's new investors are much more likely to take notice of the tax assets that stayed in the hands of the current owners.