Uber's disappointing results show poor gains in users and bookings

The US company is looking to assure investors it can evolve from a ride-hailing service to a global transportation platform

A pilot walks media members towards a waiting helicopter operated by Uber Copter, a new service by the ride-sharing company Uber, providing service from Manhattan to New York's JFK International Airport initially for Diamond and Platinum Uber Rewards members as well as special Uber partners in New York, U.S., October 2, 2019.  Picture taken October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Powered by automated translation

Uber Technologies disappointed investors with quarterly results showing lacklustre gains in bookings and monthly active users, two of the metrics most closely watched by Wall Street.

The ride-hailing company beat estimates for quarterly revenue and loss, improved its annual loss forecast and pledged to turn a profit by 2021. Those weren’t enough to lift the stock, though. Shares were down about 5 per cent in extended trading after the results.

The San Francisco-based company is seeking to assure investors it can evolve from a ride-hailing service to a global all-in-one transportation platform. There could be more pressure on Uber shares on Wednesday, when a stock lock-up for a large swath of shareholders expires. An additional 1.5 billion shares could be eligible to trade according to Renaissance Capital, nearly doubling the total number outstanding. Of venture-backed companies, only Alibaba Group Holding had a larger lockup of 1.6 billion shares.

While Uber’s overall results were good, uncertainty about the possibility of new shares flooding the market cast a shadow that may have depressed share price, said Ali Mogharabi, an analyst at Morningstar.

“It may be people getting out now, thinking that after Wednesday it’ll drop,” he said.

On a conference call with reporters following the report, Uber executives said the company would spend less aggressively and turn an adjusted profit in 2021. “We will be driving discipline across the company and only doing investments that we can afford,” said chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi.

The forecast echoed a commitment from Uber’s smaller rival, Lyft, which said it would be profitable by the fourth quarter of 2021, a year earlier than previously expected. Lyft, which focuses exclusively on transportation, blew past analysts’ third-quarter estimates when it reported results last week.

Mr Khosrowshahi has sought to reign in spending, slicing roughly 1,200 positions from sales and marketing, engineering and product. Like Lyft, Uber has also cut back on rider discounts and driver incentives in a bid to improve margins and narrow losses. Mr Khosrowshahi said Uber would exit markets and dispose of assets where it was clear it could not command No 1 or No 2 positions within the next 18 months.

Uber’s business strategy hinges on convincing existing ride-hailing customers to use more services, including bikes, scooters, helicopters and public transportation, as well as food and grocery delivery. Uber’s newer initiatives, including a job matching service for gig workers in Chicago and financial services for drivers, further demonstrate the company’s grand ambitions.

Since going public in May, Uber investors have punished the company for its growth-at-all-costs strategy. The stock closed Monday at $31.08, well below the $45 initial public offering price.

Although profitability may still be a couple years away, it’s earlier than analysts expected. Uber ended the third quarter with about $12.7 billion (Dh46.64bn) in cash, suggesting it can continue investing in growth where it doesn’t expect continued losses. Adjusted loss for the quarter widened to $585 million, compared with $485m during the same period last year, but was still better than an average of analysts’ estimates of $808m.

Quarterly adjusted revenue increased 33 per cent to $3.5bn, above estimates of $3.39bn. Uber revised its annual loss forecast to between $2.8bn and $2.9bn, an improvement of $250m.

It’ll need to do more to attract customers. Monthly active platform users, meaning those who ordered food or a ride one or more times during the quarter, was 103 million, up 26 per cent. Analysts expected 107 million. Gross bookings, a measure of the total value of rides, food orders and other businesses, were $16.5bn, compared with estimates of $16.7bn. Food delivery was especially disappointing.

More pricing pressure could come next year. California legislation designed to push Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig-economy firms to reclassify independent contractors as employees goes into effect in January and could increase costs in the state by as much as 30 per cent, according to analyst estimates. The three tech companies are gathering signatures now to challenge the law with a competing ballot initiative in a year.