Several media outlets were able to get copies of Uber’s first-quarter figures. Revenue rose 55% year over year to just over $11 billion for the quarter. Based on adjusted EBITDA, which its uses to measure profits (whether that is a fair method or not) was $304 million, compared to a loss of $597 million on the same basis.
That means Uber’s loss run rate is well above $1 billion a year. Based on some transactions in ownership, the ride-sharing service is worth $62 billion, which is $10 billion more than GM.
Uber’s valuation raises concerns once again whether companies with huge losses can be worth huge sums. They continue to consume cash. If they are wildly successful, they draw strong competition, which in Uber’s case includes Lyft and several riding-sharing services outside the United States. Some car companies have decided to set up ride-sharing experiments of their own. So have some car rental companies. Uber is not only losing money, it is being flanked, albeit by smaller competitors.
A number of tech companies that lose money have had strong initial public offerings. These can be divided into two categories. One segment is firms like Facebook, which make huge amounts of money. A number of others, ranging from GoPro to Blue Apron to Twitter, have not. While Uber is not in a business related to any of these other money-losing operations, it also cannot make an airtight case that it will ever make a dime.
Uber had a number of management problems, particularly the ouster of its CEO and founder, Travis Kalanick. Uber can fairly claim those problems are behind it. It also can make the case for scale. It is by far the largest company in its industry. It cannot make two other critical arguments, however. One is the case for competence. Uber may not be managed better than its rivals. It also cannot make the case for a wide moat. Other companies already have proven they can move into the business, and do so without special skills that Uber might claim only it has.
And, finally, Uber could continue to grow, but the investment needed to do so is too high to make it a viable business. Or its growth could slow, which makes the case for eventual profitability even harder to make.