The COVID-19 pandemic decimated swathes of the U.S. economy, particularly during 2020 and the early stages of 2021 when government-mandated social-distancing efforts were at their most intense. With so many people under lockdown orders and working from home, there was much less need for mobility services from the likes of Uber Technologies (UBER -0.15%), for example.

The number of customers regularly using Uber's platform halved within just six months, its gross bookings plunged, and investors were uncertain how long a recovery would take -- or if one would happen at all. But now, with social conditions almost entirely back to normal, Uber is posting record numbers.

Uber's stock price is still down 56% from its all-time high, but Wall Street is incredibly bullish about it, which indicates this could be a major buying opportunity. Of the 45 analysts tracked by The Wall Street Journal, 36 of them -- 80% -- have given Uber their highest-possible buy ratings. Here's why investors should ride with that recommendation.

Uber is diversifying and dominating

Uber originally set out to disrupt the entrenched taxicab business by using technology to make the experience faster, cheaper, and more convenient. Now, just about anybody with a smartphone can hail a ride with the touch of a button. It's safe to say the business had success, so much so that it's currently trying to onboard the entire taxi industry onto its platform by 2025.

But Uber expanded into other areas like food and package delivery, plus an emerging freight segment. At the height of the pandemic, those were huge drivers of revenue for the company as Uber Eats and similar services became some of the primary ways that consumers could still enjoy meals from their favorite restaurants. That platform grew even larger thanks to its addition of deliveries from supermarkets and other retail stores. It faces growing competition, but other providers don't have the advantages Uber does as a diversified business. 

In 2022's second quarter, Uber's delivery business was actually larger than its mobility (ride-hailing) business, according to gross bookings. But delivery grew by just 7% year over year compared to 55% for mobility, a difference that reflects that people's behaviors are gradually reverting to pre-pandemic norms. By next quarter, mobility should reclaim the crown as the main driver of its bookings.

Uber convincingly returned to growth

Uber was growing nicely before the pandemic struck, and its road back from the crisis has been bumpy, but its customers steadily returned, and they're now using the company's services more than ever. In 2022's second quarter, Uber reported 122 million monthly active users across its platform -- up 121% from its pandemic-era low point and up 10% from its pre-pandemic high.

A chart of Uber's monthly active customers.

Uber measures the performance of its business based on gross bookings -- how much customers spend on its platform. For example, gross bookings capture the total cost of a ride or the total cost of a meal delivered through Uber Eats. It's not the amount Uber earns from those services. 

In Q2, gross bookings hit a new all-time high of $29 billion, up 184% from the low point of the pandemic and 60% from pre-pandemic highs. The increase in the number of customers wasn't the only driving force behind the jump; as mentioned earlier, Uber continues to expand the scope of its services.

A chart of Uber's gross bookings.

As a result, in the first half of 2022, Uber's revenue more than doubled year over year to $14.9 billion. The company did post a net loss of $8.5 billion for the period. However, that was attributable to an $8.7 billion write-down in its equity investments in private companies like Grab and Zomato. Factor out that drag on its bottom line and Uber might be on the brink of generating consistent profits. In fact, in the second quarter, it delivered positive free cash flow for the first time. 

Wall Street is on board with Uber

As pandemic restrictions have largely eased, the road ahead cleared for Uber, and that prospect has Wall Street bullish. Even the 20% of analysts following the stock who haven't given it their highest-possible buy ratings are split between overweight (bullish) and neutral ratings. 

Not a single one recommends selling. That's a big deal in the current market environment, where sentiment toward technology companies is overwhelmingly negative. What's more, the consensus price target on Uber stock among those 45 analysts is $47.89, indicating a potential upside of 80% within the next year relative to where it trades right now. One analyst predicts it could soar by as much as 186% to $76.

With its return to growth, an expanding list of services, and profitability potentially around the corner, investors might do well to bet on Uber for the long term.