Uber chose the worst possible week to have its IPO, and the bad timing will cost it billions


In the stock market, timing is everything. For Uber, it turns out, the timing of its initial public offering could have been a lot better. The app-based taxi giant went public on Thursday, pricing its stock at $US45 a share. The price was near the bottom of the $US44-to-$US50-a-share range it had planned for, giving the company a market value of about $US75.5 billion.

That’s nothing to sneeze at, of course. At that price, Uber is raising $US8.6 billion in its IPO. And it means the 10-year-old company is entering the public markets with a value greater than that of the automaker Ford, rental-car company Avis, and pay-TV giant Viacom combined.

But the initial public valuation is clearly disappointing for the company and its early investors. The valuation is well below the $US100 billion or more the company was reportedly shooting for as recently as last month. And it’s only about two-thirds of the $US120 billion number that investment bankers were hyping last year.

Maybe Uber’s stock will soar Friday when it begins trading and everyday shareholders get a chance to buy a piece of the ride-hailing company. But that would only underscore how bad of a week it was to go public, since it caused Uber to misjudge market demand and forfeit billions of dollars if it had priced higher.

Multiple factors most likely weighed down the price investors were willing to pay for Uber in the IPO. But many of them can probably be pinned on the IPO’s happening at the same time as a confluence of problematic events.

Uber didn’t get a lift from Lyft

Chief among those is almost certainly the poor performance of the shares of Lyft since its IPO in March. That’s because Lyft’s IPO – the first by a company that focuses primarily on the ride-hailing business – could be considered a dry run for Uber’s.

In the US, Lyft is Uber’s archrival. Though it’s considerably smaller, it shares many similarities. Both are branching out from their taxi businesses into other areas, such as bike- and scooter-sharing services and self-driving vehicles. And while both have seen fast revenue growth, each has failed thus far to generate cash from its operations.

Lyft’s IPO initially seemed to go well, The company went public at $US72 a share, at the top of its range. That gave it an initial valuation of $US21 billion, which was nearly 40% higher than its last private valuation, just nine months earlier. Even better, its stock zoomed as high as $US88.60 on its first day of trading.

Since then, though, Lyft’s shares have done little but decline. They hit a nadir Wednesday of $US52.78 a share and closed Thursday at $US55.18, down 23% since the IPO. The company’s market capitalisation is now barely above the company’s last private valuation.

Uber is facing mounting losses and disgruntled drivers

But other factors closer to home also surely weighed on Uber’s IPO. At the end of last month, the company updated its IPO documents to include its preliminary estimate of its first-quarter results. The report wasn’t good.

Uber’s revenue in the period grew by just 18% to 20%. That was below the 25% annual pace at which it grew in the fourth quarter last year. And it was less than half its 42% growth rate for all of last year.

Worse, the company reported that its quarterly loss, which dipped in the fourth quarter to $US865 million, ballooned to at least $US1 billion in the first quarter.

Read this: Uber is telling the world it’s just like Amazon: Here’s why the similarities are only skin-deep

Added on top of that was Wednesday’s strike by Uber and Lyft drivers. Though it probably didn’t have much impact on Uber’s financials, the labour action highlighted the growing discontent among the people who deliver its core service and the pressure it’s under to increase their pay.

But that’s not all Uber is contending with. The stock market has plunged this week, and many of the major indexes are now down over the past month. Concerns about the economic impact of the trade war with China amped back up this week after President Donald Trump threatened to impose additional tariffs on Chinese goods.

And investors are growing increasingly worried about market volatility. The Cboe Volatility Index, or VIX, spiked to near 20 this week. Numbers below 20 imply that investors expect relatively calm markets. IPO managers try to time IPOs to such periods – and try to avoid them when implied volatility gets much higher than that.

Of course, many of these factors were outside Uber’s control. Despite them, it’s still going to have a giant IPO.

But it could have been even bigger. Its timing most likely cost Uber billions.

Got a tip about Uber or another tech company? Contact this reporter via email at [email protected], message him on Twitter @troywolv, or send him a secure message through Signal at 415.515.5594. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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