Uber set for big pop despite Lyft worries

IPO

Uber will price its IPO today with shares set to be set somewhere between $44 and $50, with the stock to start trading on Friday.

There is certainly a more cautious tone to this one than when its big rival, Lyft, listed. Shares in the latter have fallen over 30% since IPO day. Fears that this is just the froth at the top of a tech bubble are surfacing. However with the pricing range there is a big chance of a significant pop on the day, even if one remains of a conservative disposition and wonders about the fundamentals and whether Uber can ever be profitable. FOMO will win the battle on the day, but maybe not the war.

Uber will be valued at between $80.5bn and $91.5bn, well below the $100 bandied about for some time but still well ahead of the last funding round in August, when the company was valued at around $76bn.

The FT reports that Uber will price at or below the midpoint of that range. I would anticipate a big pop on the day if that were the case, as this is already a fairly conservative range.

Uncertain earnings

The latest financial figures raise as many questions as they answer. In Q1 2019, Uber made a net loss of $1bn, on revenues of $3bn. That represented growth of 18-20 per cent, solid enough, but well down from the 70 per cent growth a year ago.

Last year’s numbers also present investors with problems. 2018 revenues rose 43% last year to $11.3bn from $7.9bn in 2017 – good but slower than that of the prior year when we saw revenues double. The company burned $2.1bn in cash in 2018, albeit down from $4.5bn just a couple of years before. Meanwhile, revenues from the core ride-hailing division have flatlined over the last two quarters. Uber’s revenue for the fourth quarter came in at $3 billion, up 25 percent from the same quarter last year, but this was lower than the 38 percent in Q3.

Lyft’s spectre

Lyft casts something of a shadow over the Uber IPO. Having been aggressively priced ahead of going public shares in Lyft are now down over 30 per cent from where they were on IPO day. Lyft is a spectre in another sense – gaining market share from Uber. Indeed, it’s not just Lyft – Uber is losing market share to many other local rivals in a number of geographies. In the US and Canada it’s barely recovered from its 2017 annus horribilis.

Lyft’s Q1 earnings have been said to cast a pall over the Uber IPO. I would be less certain about that – it was a huge loss for sure, but below last year. Uber has said that 2019 will be when losses peak. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people selling Lyft stock are simply doing so in preparation for the Uber listing.

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