Uber isn’t required to disclose its financials as a privately-held company, but the ride-hailing service dished the goods to Bloomberg Friday, and it reaffirmed what’s been known for some time: It’s burning serious cash.
According to Bloomberg, Uber doubled its gross bookings—the total of fares charged before drivers get paid— to $20 billion last year, with total losses of $3.8 billion on net revenue of $6.5 billion, when accounting for its disastrous business operation in China. (Uber sold its Chinese business to competitor Didi, in return for an 18 percent stake.) The financial statement come with several points to consider, including that it doesn’t, according to Bloomberg, account for “employee stock compensation, certain real-estate investments, automobile purchases and other expenses.”
But the level of cash Uber’s burning through—nearly $1 billion alone in the fourth quarter—is unprecedented for a tech company. Uber is reportedly seeing a five-to-10 percent profit margin in major cities like Chicago and Paris, but that’s wiped out once fixed costs are calculated in. Fierce competition from arch-rival Lyft in other areas isn’t much help for the company’s bottom line, either.
“It’s going to be a case study,” Aswath Damodaran, a finance professor at New York University told Bloomberg. “This is a cash-burning machine.”
Indeed, after the $3.8 billion loss performance in 2016, Bloomberg says it has $7 billion of cash on hand, “along with an untapped $2.3 billion credit facility.”
But Uber remains optimistic, despite the toil of controversies it’s endured this year. That’s because, as Bloomberg put it, “Uber’s business is massive and getting bigger. In the last three months of 2016, gross bookings increased 28 percent from the previous quarter to $6.9 billion”
Is that good, though? That’s something we covered at length back in February. The problem, in the eyes of economists and observers of Uber, is that it doesn’t have a powerful “economy of scale”—that is, the savings in cost that are produced when production increases, particularly through fixed costs being spread out.”
As Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business told us, that’s why Uber’s approach appears problematic.
“They don’t have an economy of scale,” he said. “So, every day, venture capitalists fund loss-making companies, but not one [with] a model you can’t see how it’s going to flip twice as many rides that you keep losing money on. You’re not going to start making twice as much money because you’re doing twice as much rides. It’s not like a factory [with fixed costs].”
That’s why Uber’s insistence that it’s positive business is good appears so peculiar. It’s certainly interesting that the company now seems willing to open its books, though, despite being privately-held.
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