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International Finance

Uber Posts First Adjusted Profit on Ride-Hailing Rebound

The Uber Technologies logo on a smartphone arranged in Dobbs Ferry, New York, U.S., on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. Uber Technologies is scheduled to release earnings figures on February 10.

Uber Technologies Inc. reported its first-ever adjusted profit as a public company, boosted by a recovery in ride-hailing and sustained demand in its delivery business.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization was $8 million in the third quarter, Uber said in a statement Thursday. Analysts expected a loss of $15.4 million loss, according to an average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The shares were up about 1% in extended trading.

When accounting for other expenses, though, Uber’s profits were nonexistent. It recorded a net loss of $2.4 billion in the period that ended in September. A writedown of its stake in China’s Didi Global Inc., previously reported by Bloomberg, drove the loss.

“While we recognize it’s just a step, reaching total-company adjusted Ebitda profitability is an important milestone for Uber,” Chief Financial Officer Nelson Chai said in the statement.

The San Francisco-based company offered a conservative forecast for the fourth quarter. Adjusted earnings will be $25 million to $75 million in the period that ends in December, Uber said. Analysts expected $98.1 million.

“The pandemic has been hard to predict and so we’re going to be a little bit prudent as we think about that,” Nelson Chai, the chief financial officer, said on a conference call with analysts.

Ride-hailing was among the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic as people shunned activities that involved coming in close proximity with strangers. But rising vaccination rates and the economy’s reopening are re-igniting rider demand. Gross mobility bookings grew 67% from a year earlier, driven in part by a rebound in airport rides, which surged 203% from a year ago.

While riders are coming back, it’s been harder for Uber and Lyft Inc. to find enough drivers to meet that renewed demand, leading to higher fares and wait times for customers. Uber has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on incentives to lure drivers back after many resorted to government stimulus programs for income, sought work elsewhere or are reluctant to return because of health concerns.

“Our early and decisive investments in driver growth are still paying dividends, with drivers steadily returning to the platform, leading to further improvement in the consumer experience,” Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said in the statement.

Uber is searching for ways to address fare hikes that have become commonplace over the last year. Uber is “actively investing” in services like shared rides that can bring prices down, Khosrowshahi said on the call with analysts. However, increased costs of labor and inflation will keep them elevated for the foreseeable future, he said.

In the third quarter, revenue rose 72% to $4.8 billion, the company said. That beat the $4.4 billion analysts had projected.

Uber said the number of active drivers in the U.S. is up nearly 60% compared with the same period last year. The company also scaled back spending on driver incentives in the third quarter, which contributed to it reaching profitability.

Lyft also has seen its prospects improve, reporting a 73% increase in revenue in the third quarter. Co-founder and President John Zimmer said airport rides, which were up threefold from a year earlier, coupled with a rise in weekend and evening trips, were a positive sign that customers are reverting back to pre-pandemic habits.

Uber reported $23.1 billion in gross bookings, which encompasses ride-hailing, food-delivery and freight, a 57% increase from the same period last year, in line with estimates.

Unlike its rival Lyft, Uber was able to rely on its food-delivery business Uber Eats, which boomed during the pandemic just as ride share demand cratered. The delivery segment, which includes orders across restaurant, grocery and alcohol, has continued to grow despite indoor dining resuming, up 50% from a year ago to $12.8 billion in bookings.

While Uber’s delivery business as a whole is still not profitable, it significantly narrowed its losses by $149 million from the second quarter, led by its core unit, Uber Eats. Its competitor in this sector, DoorDash Inc., has quickly gobbled up market share and refined its own unit economics for meal delivery since going public.

“Uber has to show that in addition to working toward being profitable that they can also maintain and grow market share against DoorDash,” said RBC Capital Markets analyst Brad Erickson.

Uber’s portfolio of investments is now worth $13 billion. The Didi writedown represented an unrealized loss of $3.2 billion, wiping out the $1.4 billion it made after the Chinese ride-hailing giant went public in June. Other holdings, including Grab Holdings Inc., Aurora and Joby Aviation LLC, have also taken steps to go public.


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