Update: After publication I received a Tweet suggesting an excellent article on Uber: Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part One – Understanding Uber’s Bleak Operating Economics posted Yves Smith. Hubert Horan did a thorough 6 part series on the company. The article includes financials from Uber.
A lot of people are asking how can I invest in Uber. They say things like “Uber is the next big thing, I can’t miss out on its IPO”…Every year we have a company that makes people dream. People want the next Microsoft. The fantasy of easy money makes people dream and they kind of lose their mind when it comes to rational investing.
Uber is what we call a “disruptor” business. Companies like Uber, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb and Amazon among others are “disrupting” the world we know with the aim of making it better. Along the way it creates winners (usually the consumers) and losers (taxi drivers, cable companies, hotels etc…) Uber is simply an taxi app on your phone that let’s book a ride. Uber didn’t reinvent the wheel here. They simply made an under-served service, cabing, much better.
Uber is a company that I admire. I like taking it and I believe they are not going anywhere no matter how many angry cabs drivers block the streets. Technology is not something bad or good, just like steel is not bad or good. It’s just that our laws are not up to date for these new an upcoming companies. Companies like Uber take on the establishment and left the old guard gritting their teeth. Fast growing companies like Uber constantly need money. Uber is still a private company and we don’t have access to financials. Various media have reported that Uber is burning over $500 million a quarter. It could be an exaggeration but it’s reasonable to think they are burning through a lot of cash since they are constantly looking for money. Uber is not profitable and probably won’t be for a long time. A company like Uber is still allowed to exist because the capital market let it exist. If the tide turned, like it did with the dotcom boom in 2000, it could become a bust.
Companies that you admire and love doesn’t necessarily make it a great investment. I like Twitter, it doesn’t mean it’s a great investment. You still need to focus on the fundamentals. You still need to ask how you are going to make a return on that investment. Especially if the company is burning through cash. Interesting fun companies doesn’t necessary = I will be rich. A company like Uber can’t pay a dividend or buyback shares. So you are entirely hoping that the next valuation round will be higher (and you are diluting your ownership too). It’s the greater fool theory. Now I’m not saying Uber is a bad investment. We barely know anything about its finances. It might turn out to a great investment. I don’t know.
The articles says that at least two investment banks passed on selling shares of Uber to their high-net worth clients — shares eventually sold by other banks in January — because the ride-share company wasn’t willing to provide financial details about its business. The 290-page Uber prospectus Morgan Stanley sent to prospective investors before the January stock sale didn’t include Uber’s net income or annual revenue. The New York-based bank addressed the lack of data in its prospectus, and love that part, by saying “the development of insights and big ideas is valuable to the investment process, whereas obsession over incremental ‘information’ flow is not.” I just love how you can spin so much b.s. and still get the money you need. Good for them. But there’s a lot of suckers out there. We live in a weird era. Reminds me of Trump with his “alternative facts” and “we disagree about the facts”.
Who is buying shares of a company without having any clues about the financials? A lot of folks apparently. It’s a dream for Uber and a potential disastor for investors. Reminds me of the dot-com mania. Now that we have the Dow at 20,000 points, there’s seems to be a mini euphoria going on.