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Uber's Arrival on Wall Street Was a Real Case of Bad Timing

By Motley Fool Staff - May 15, 2019 at 11:58AM

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The ridesharing leader shifted into reverse almost as soon as it went public.

Investors have been eagerly awaiting the initial public offering for Uber (UBER 0.47%) for months, but when it finally came Friday, it was underwhelming. The company set its offering price at $45, on the low end of the announced range, but the stock opened at $43, and never got back to $45.

In this segment from Motley Fool Money, host Chris Hill and senior analysts Andy Cross, Ron Gross, and Jason Moser discuss the confluence of factors that dragged it down -- and kept dragging it: Shares were almost 18% below the IPO price at Monday's close. The question is, was it more about the trade war and macro-economic headwinds, or were investors looking at Lyft's latest numbers, and growing concerned about Uber's path to profitability?

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on May 10, 2019.

Chris Hill: We're going to start with the most hotly anticipated IPO of 2019. Uber going public Friday morning. They set their price at $45 a share. That was the low end of the range, Ron. When shares began trading shortly before noon, the stock opened at $42.

Ron Gross: This one is interesting to me. The lower end of the range, as you say, was set, but the subscription was oversubscribed. The IPO was oversubscribed, indicating that there was demand. But what I think happened is that the bankers in the company decided to be conservative for a couple of reasons. One, they didn't want what happened to Lyft to happen to them. Lyft went public and shortly thereafter, really within a day or so, broke through the IPO price and never looked back and has continued to go down. Plus, as you mentioned, we have the China-U.S. trade negotiations going on. The market is rattled, the market is weak. It's actually a bad week to go public as a result. So we saw some conservatism in there. Now you see the company actually start to trade. It trades weak. I think, again, building on the fact that the market is just not having it this week.

Andy Cross: Yeah. And I just don't think they wanted to delay it any further. I mean, I was thinking, maybe they'll push it back again. But it's been out there so much in the media. They just don't want to push that off. And while it was a bad time, at least the stock is hovering around that price right now. The bankers and the day-to-day traders trying to find that price. At least it doesn't collapse, which I think was potentially some risk out there right now.

Gross: And I think there's a chance that people are fatiguing on the phrase "path to profitability." There may come a time where people want to see profits once again. To take a company public at an $82 billion valuation that is not profitable, and probably won't be profitable for five years-plus, is daunting. And up until now, you could get away with that. In certain periods of time throughout the stock market, you could get away with it, right up until you can't, and investors want to see good old profits once again.

Jason Moser: I think it's a pretty fair assumption, too, that both companies' cost structures are going to be nothing but going up in the near future and even the farther-out future. The drivers are going to want more money. I mean, I think that right now, it seems like the difference between contractor and employee is really playing out in the press. So I mean, these are just two good examples of companies where I think it really pays to be patient. There is no reason to rush in and buy shares of these businesses. They're probably going to still be around in five years. But I think the business models themselves, the economics are going to change significantly. I think that'll be something that to keep in mind.

Gross: Yeah. The take rate, which is the amount that Uber keeps after paying the drivers, has been declining. You do not want to see that because you need this business to really get profitable based on scale. Ninety-one million active monthly users is impressive. You need to continue to grow that but you need to continue to grow the profitability on a per-customer basis if this is ever going to turn into a profitable venture.

Hill: Well, and Ron, you mentioned the macro environment contributing to it not being a great week for Uber. Also not helping, probably, is the fact that this week, Lyft issued their first quarterly report as a public company. They lost over $1 billion in 90 days. That's amazing!

Gross: That's amazing!

Hill: And not the good kind!

Gross: Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised, as we knew they were not profitable either. They're more of a pure play, right? Uber has Uber Eats, which is actually going to be probably a big deal in relation to it turning profitable. But Lyft is more of a pure play. 20 million active users in the quarter. Obviously much smaller than Uber, a more focused play on the rideshare industry. But you know what, we're going to autonomous vehicles at some point -- five years, 10 years, 20 years. Is Uber going to be profitable before that? If they are, then the whole thing changes again.

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