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Brad DeLong's Grasping Reality 2019-08-12 14:58:43

Summary:
Jamie Powell: A Delirious Defence of Uber: "What’s the counterargument here? Well, we soon find out: 'In other words, this company isn't losing money. It's the opposite. It's gathering in enormous sums: Gross bookings were up 31% to nearly billion. Revenue was up 14% to .2 billion. Riders increased 30% to 99 million. It's difficult to look at those numbers and conclude that Uber is dysfunctional.' But the Business Insider article just told us that it is losing money: 1.6bn in six months.... Revenue growth, in and of itself, is only impressive when combined with positive economics. With an ebitda margin of negative 28.6 per cent last quarter, Uber is still a long way off proving that its business model works sustainably. For completion’s sake, here are the final few paragraphs....

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Jamie Powell: A Delirious Defence of Uber: "What’s the counterargument here? Well, we soon find out: 'In other words, this company isn't losing money. It's the opposite. It's gathering in enormous sums: Gross bookings were up 31% to nearly $16 billion. Revenue was up 14% to $3.2 billion. Riders increased 30% to 99 million. It's difficult to look at those numbers and conclude that Uber is dysfunctional.' But the Business Insider article just told us that it is losing money: 1.6bn in six months.... Revenue growth, in and of itself, is only impressive when combined with positive economics. With an ebitda margin of negative 28.6 per cent last quarter, Uber is still a long way off proving that its business model works sustainably. For completion’s sake, here are the final few paragraphs.... 'Uber did increase its various operational expenses, such as marketing, R&D, and salaries & admin costs. But those are all costs that Uber can control, and cut in the future if need be. For now, the company is investing in its own growth. In other words, this company is still behaving like an "early stage" tech start-up—albeit on a vast scale. This company has a LONG way to go before it tops out. (Think about Facebook when it reached 1 billion people and everyone thought Facebook would slow down.) Investors are idiots for selling their stock right now.' Uber is a decade old global brand whose core business—ride-sharing—is now growing at just 2 per cent. It is also betting heavily that its smaller business lines, such as food delivery and freight, will be a source of future growth. In other words, it’s acting less like a start-up, and more like a legacy tech company scrambling for new growth. Think Oracle, IBM or perhaps even the modern-day Apple. Notice the difference, however. All of these companies have 'cash cow' products which help to keep the buybacks and dividends flowing, as well as funding future bets. Uber on the other hand... Look, there’s something to be said for the hysterical way quarterly results are sometimes reported by the press. After all they often contain a lot of noise and, in isolation, are not that indicative of how a business is really doing. But let’s not pretend Uber’s financials, to date, show a company gathering in cash “'in enormous sums'...

Bradford DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

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