Jul 3, 2021 - Economy

Uber's not-so-secret value

Illustration of a car driving over a dollar bill.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Uber has amassed a collection of stakes in other transportation and related companies, such as its piece of newly public Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi.

Why it matters: These investments once were viewed as consolation prizes but now are worth more than $13 billion.

Flashback: After plowing $2 billion into its Chinese operations, Uber sold its China business in 2016 for an 18% stake in Didi (it's now about 12%).

  • The timing was important, a source close to the deal tells Axios. Uber had just raised $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund in May, and executives felt the company was in its strongest position to negotiate a favorable deal as it had showed it could easily raise large bags of cash to keep competing.
  • This gave Uber a template when it considered its operations in Russia, which it eventually sold to rival Yandex.

Uber has continued to make these sorts of deals since CEO Dara Khosrowshahi took over in 2017.

  • While selling Uber’s autonomous driving unit was unthinkable under former CEO Travis Kalanick, the company recently shed it in exchange for a sizable stake in Aurora Innovation. In turn, Aurora is now in the process of going public via a SPAC.
  • Uber did the same with its “flying taxi” unit.

Between the lines: The pandemic’s pressure on Uber to focus on its core businesses, coupled with the reality that self-driving cars will take much longer than predicted, made selling units focused on autonomous driving and bikes the smart move, says D.A. Davidson managing director Tom White.

  • And unlike Yahoo's valuable stake in Alibaba, which largely propped up Yahoo's valuation as its core business decayed, Uber's ride-hailing and delivery businesses are very much alive and kicking.
  • Still, White cautions that even though some of these companies are going public, Uber’s stakes aren’t cash and aren't as liquid as they seem since they can't be easily offloaded without affecting the price.
  • And the newly announced probe into Didi's cybersecurity operations by Chinese regulators could turn into a serious problem (it's already put a damper on its stock price).

The bottom line: "While some of these investments are strategic and Uber will remain involved for the foreseeable future, others are likely to be significant sources of liquidity,” Uber CFO Nelson Chai said on a Q1 earnings call with analysts.

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