Uber’s first quarterly earnings report as a publicly-traded company tells us much of the same as every other report the company has ever released about its finances: they can’t stop, won’t stop losing so much freaking money.
In the first quarter of 2019, Uber lost $1.034 billion. Yes, billion, with a B. In three months.
Every time I write about this, the usual suspects chime in to tell me I don’t know how investing works, and that investors are interested in medium/long-term potential, market share, and other smarter metrics indicative of long-term health than profit-loss calculations today.
That’s all well and good, but the question is: How long do investors put up with billion-dollar losses every quarter? At what point does the company’s stock price start to suffer? Or have we entered the ultimate late-capitalism horror show where making money simply isn’t that important anymore and Monthly Active Users is somehow the only metric that matters now?
My extremely non-expert opinion you’re more than free to yell at me in the comments about: investors don’t care whether Uber makes any money because the market is doing well now. But when the next recession hits, whenever that may be, investors are going to be a little less forgiving.
And for a company that juices both sides of the supply and demand model to get both riders and drivers to a price point they can both (temporarily) handle, it’s far from clear there’s a magic switch the company can flip to achieve profitability. And that doesn’t even get into the idea the service Uber provides is, in many cases, a non-essential one. People often use Uber for convenience, not necessity, and an economic downtown may lead to a lot of scrimping and saving, meaning fewer Uber customers.
This isn’t to say Uber is going to cease to exist after one recession, but something is going to have to change with how the company works. All of this is speculative, but it increasingly feels like something has to give with Uber. No matter how much money you have, a billion dollars here and there will, eventually, add up.