Few stocks exemplify the gig economy as much as the likes of Airbnb and Uber. Airbnb challenges the near-exclusivity of large hotel chains while Uber has almost completely diminished the monopoly of heavily-organised taxi operators.
The pandemic, however, was a challenging time for certain sections of the economy: travel restrictions and reduced commutes spelt an ominous time for these rising stars. In this article, we highlight the latest goings-on that a shrewd investor would be sure to take into consideration.
Airbnb: Up Until the Pandemic
Prior to its IPO on December 10 of last year, Airbnb went from strength to strength in its yearly valuations by private investors. In 2015, it was the first company to enter Cuba after the Obama Administration’s easing of restrictions. Its roster of investors – both past and present – included the likes of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher, Google Capital and Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV).
In terms of economic impact measured in terms of both host earnings as well as other expenses borne by users, the company’s biggest beneficiary was estimated to be the U.S., with mostly other Western countries making up the rest of the Top 10 list.
But then the pandemic hit. The company laid off 25% of its workforce – around 1,900 employees – in May 2020. The company lowered its internal valuation from $31 billion to $26 billion, and considered delaying plans for an IPO – before going public in December to raise $3.5 billion of capital.
The number of bookings vis-à-vis revenues painted a similarly grim picture.
In terms of competitive landscape, the company –as of 2019 – was the junior-most but growing competitor to other travel portals in terms of gross bookings. However, it is no stretch to assume that 2020 was a bad year for both Airbnb and its competitors.
Uber: Up Until the Pandemic
Starting off as UberCab in 2009, Uber became the brand most people associate with ride-hailing after it took the U.S. by storm and expanded into Europe, Asia and South America. The company has three arms: Eats (a food delivery service), Freight (a logistics service) and an autonomous vehicle unit (Advanced Technologies Group or “ATG”).
On May 10, 2019, the company went public with an IPO following which the share price dropped 11%, resulting in the biggest IPO first-day dollar loss in US history. Doing a side-by-side comparison of the company’s performance versus its perception and growth reveals that high revenues do not necessarily translate to high profits.
To understand why, it’s important to note that Uber is actively at war with the organised personal transportation sector. To draw customers towards it, the company expends a vast sum of money on administrative expenses to continuously draw in a large pool of drivers as well as on marketing and promotions to keep users hooked. The charges levied on a user does not go very far in keeping the drivers interested and are too low to translate to a high profit for the company. In other words, every ride on Uber actually costs the company money.
After the pandemic hit, the company announced plans to lay off around 14% of its workforce – 3,700 employees – followed by an announcement a fortnight later that a further 3,000 employees would be laid off and 45 office locations would be closed.
As a whole, North America was and remains its major revenue earner.
The company’s Eats and Freights arms weren’t historically a major revenue earner. However, the Eats arm proved to be a lifesaver for the company during the pandemic when food delivery orders skyrocketed.
In fact, in terms of revenues earned, Uber bounced back from the effects of the pandemic very quickly and built an upward momentum from Q3 2020 onwards.
But, we reiterate, whether high revenues translates to profits passed down to Uber’s shareholders is a question mark.
Another key feature of the company has been its active acquisition/partnership spree. In 2016, the company sold its China operations to DiDi in exchange for an 18% stake in DiDi and a commitment from the latter to invest $1 billion in Uber. In 2018, Uber combined its operations in Russia and some CIS countries with those of Yandex.Taxi and invested $225 million in the joint venture. It did the same with Southeast Asia-based Uber clone Grab in exchange for a 27.5% ownership stake. In 2020, it acquired Careem – an Uber clone in the Middle East and North Africa – and sold its Eats operation in India to Zomato in exchange for a 9.99% stake.
Interestingly, in these current times, the company acquired U.S. delivery service Postmates for $2.65 billion in December of last year. In January of this year, Uber ATG was sold to self-driving startup Aurora Innovation for $4 billion while Uber invested $400 million into Aurora to take a 26% stake. In February, the company announced the purchase of U.S. alcohol delivery service Drizly for $1.1 billion in cash and stock.
All of these investments will be additional sources of market value impact for the company’s stock.
Airbnb and Uber: Where They Stand Today
In many respects, the two companies are quite similar despite being in different areas of the economy: their primary market is North America, they’re both champions of the “gig economy”, they’ve both had a grim 2020, and they both started off 2021 with a bang by outperforming the S&P 500 in Q1 2021.
In Q2 2021, however, the difference in outlook between the two becomes apparent. Airbnb is widely expected – even by Reddit’s avid stock-watching crowds – to become a highly-valued stock. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky stated during the Q1 2021 update that the company expects the return of urban and cross-border travel to give the company significant tailwinds in the coming quarters. On top of that, as remote work becomes more and more prominent, this will likely boost the company’s home-sharing segment.
Meanwhile, Uber – like most Western ride-sharing companies – has been battling lack of driver availability, many of whom sought other avenues of work during the pandemic. As a result, fares in the U.S. have risen by an average of 40% in the month of June. But the company does have a ray of light in in the East – its stake in DiDi Chuxing (presently diluted to 15.4%) is bound to add an estimated $9-12.8 billion in value to Uber after the Chinese ride-sharing behemoth goes public later this year. DiDi also owns the largest electric vehicle charging network in China, with over 30% market share of total public charging volume in the first quarter of 2021. This, too, will prove to be an indirect means of shoring up Uber’s profits since China is the world’s largest market for electric vehicles.
However, in the immediate short term, Uber’s investee is in hot water: less than a week after DiDi listed on the New York Stock Exchange, the Chinese government announced on July 2nd that new users would not be able to download the company’s ride-hailing app due to an ongoing review after the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) reported that the app illegally collected users’ personal data. By July 6th, the company’s newly-listed shares fell more than 19% and lost $15 billion of market value on that day alone. The company also faces two lawsuits in US federal courts alleging that the company failed to disclose ongoing talks with Chinese authorities on this matter. For Uber, this is a cause for concern: the perceived diversification benefits from its investment doesn’t seem to be bearing fruit just yet. However, in the long run – barring DiDi’s complete closure by the Chinese government – it is still likely that investment benefits would materialize after the matter at hand is satisfactorily resolved.
Of course, the direction in which the stock is supposed to go is a matter of intense conjecture. Whether up or down, the price trajectory can be reasonably expected to be quite bumpy.
Sandeep joined Leverage Shares in September 2020. He leads research on existing and new product lines, asset classes, and strategies, with special emphasis on analysis of recent events and developments.
Sandeep has longstanding experience with financial markets. Starting with a Chicago-based hedge fund as a financial engineer, his career has spanned a variety of domains and organizations over a course of 8 years – from Barclays Capital’s Prime Services Division to (most recently) Nasdaq’s Index Research Team.
Sandeep holds an M.S. in Finance as well as an MBA from Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago.
Violeta joined Leverage Shares in September 2022. She is responsible for conducting technical analysis, macro and equity research, providing valuable insights to help shape investment strategies for clients.
Prior to joining LS, Violeta worked at several high-profile investment firms in Australia, such as Tollhurst and Morgans Financial where she spent the past 12 years of her career.
Violeta is a certified market technician from the Australian Technical Analysts Association and holds a Post Graduate Diploma of Applied Finance and Investment from Kaplan Professional (FINSIA), Australia, where she was a lecturer for a number of years.
Julian joined Leverage Shares in 2018 as part of the company’s premier expansion in Eastern Europe. He is responsible for web content and raising brand awareness.
Julian has been academically involved with economics, psychology, sociology, European politics & linguistics. He has experience in business development and marketing through business ventures of his own.
For Julian, Leverage Shares is an innovator in the field of finance & fintech, and he always looks forward with excitement to share the next big news with investors in the UK & Europe.
Oktay joined Leverage Shares in late 2019. He is responsible for driving business growth by maintaining key relationships and developing sales activity across English-speaking markets.
He joined LS from UniCredit, where he was a corporate relationship manager for multinationals. His previous experience is in corporate finance and fund administration at firms like IBM Bulgaria and DeGiro / FundShare.
Oktay holds a BA in Finance & Accounting and a post-graduate certificate in Entrepreneurship from Babson College. He is also a CFA charterholder.
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