MarketWatch First Take: Uber admits that ride-hailing is worth less because of coronavirus, but investors still think Uber is worth more
MarketWatch First Take
Investors need to take off the rose-colored glasses and see that there are big issues with a young industry that may not clear up when the coronavirus does
Uber Technologies Inc. admitted Thursday that the COVID-19 pandemic makes ride-hailing companies less valuable, but investors still added billions to Uber’s valuation anyway.
reported a quarterly loss of nearly $3 billion Thursday afternoon, with roughly two-thirds of that loss resulting from a devaluation of its investments in Asian ride-hailing services Didi Chuxing and Grab. When Uber first mentioned the write-down last month, it admitted the move was “due to the impact of the pandemic on the estimated value of these entities.”
Yet investors are not discounting Uber stock for the same reason. They sent Uber stock up 6.1% in after-hours trading, which would add more than $3 billion to Uber’s market cap if the gains hold through Friday’s trading session. The stock had already jumped 11.1% in Thursday’s regular session to push Uber’s valuation higher than $53 billion, and is up 4% so far this year, while the S&P 500 index
has dropped 11.8% amid widespread worries about the impact of the coronavirus.
Since the pandemic began, Uber has seen its ride-hailing business fall dramatically across the globe, while its costly food-delivery business, Uber Eats, has surged as people sheltering in place order take-out. As a response to the drop in demand, Uber has embarked on annualized cost-cutting of around $1 billion, including laying off 14% of its staff, and it now has a hiring freeze.
“I won’t sugarcoat it,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told analysts on a conference call Thursday. “COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on rides, with the business down globally around 80% in April. Still, there’s some green shoots driving restrained optimism.”
He highlighted 9% trip growth last week, and a huge acceleration in Eats demand, with bookings soaring 89%, excluding India, in April. Uber’s CEO said the company is still aiming to become profitable, and that the disruption from COVID-19 will delay its profitability by a matter of quarters, but not years.
Investors are the ones who seem to be sugarcoating Uber’s news, and reading too many positives into Khosrowshahi’s statements. On the company’s call, not one analyst asked about how sustainable the demand for Uber Eats or Uber Rides will be if more people become unemployed.
But looking at the global pandemic purely as a “disruption” may be giving companies and investors a “rose-colored glasses” view of the economy. The U.S. alone likely lost more than 20 million jobs in April. It seems to be a no-brainer that people without jobs are not going to order pricey takeout food or hail an Uber even when the economy starts to open back up, as long as they are still unemployed.
Investors are applauding the tough moves that Khosrowshahi has been making, but everyone seems to be assuming that things will quickly go back to normal as states gradually open back up. Uber itself encouraged this idea, noting that bookings in large cities across Georgia and Texas, two states that have started reopening, climbed 43% and 50%, respectively. Khosrowshahi added though, that it is “very early days” and that any recovery will be non-linear, with some markets recovering while others temporarily retreat.
Even though these signs are encouraging, it seems far too early to be this optimistic about a company that is hit so hard by the pandemic. Especially since the company — through its own actions with its impairment charges — is admitting that its core business may be worth less.