Uber Wants to Say All's Well, but New Investors Say Shares Are Overpriced

Uber has been anxious for a new investment of cash. You would be too, if your company was burning far more than $2 billion a year in cash. But while this is a big priority for new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber is at a disadvantage and new reports say SoftBank is looking for investors to sell shares at 30 percent off the last valuation.

The pressure is high and if SoftBank and its partners can’t get enough shares at a price they like, they won’t provide the cash infusion to Uber, as Bloomberg reported. Big investors have to weigh their options. They can hold their shares and hope for a better offer, because Uber is still a private company and the stock isn’t so easily sold. Or they could sell some shares and hope the company is around long enough for a planned 2019 IPO.

The 30 percent off the most recent $69 billion valuation means SoftBank says the company is worth only $48.3 billion. It’s still an enormous sum for a company that has yet to make a penny in profit after years of operation. The figure is an even sharper drop than the $50 billion mark previously reported by the Wall Street Journal.

SoftBank bets that enough shareholders are willing to unload shares to give the investment company 14 percent of outstanding stock. Apparently Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick has said he won’t sell. Benchmark Capital is still deciding whether it will take part in the tender offer.

The problem, as always with Uber, is cash on hand. The company is burning money at a rate that may be unprecedented. After years of operations, it still loses billions of dollars annually. The worry is that if Uber should collapse, investors could be out everything they had in the company.

The board is likely trying to convince shareholders to cooperate. If the company is to survive, it needs the $1 billion that the group led by SoftBank. Most of the 14 percent the consortium hopes to gain has to come from existing investors.

The investment would come with another steep price. Uber reportedly would have to add upwards of six directors to its board and change the voting structure that strongly favors Kalanick and some others who effectively control the company.

This is an extremely big bet SoftBank and its partners are making. None of the rideshare companies — Uber and Lyft being the two big names in the U.S. — have managed to reach profitability. It’s unclear when, or if, the economics of the business models will allow that to happen. Consumers like fares that are cheap because the rideshare companies subsidize them. However, they can’t stay inexpensive forever if they will continue to pay drivers.

Self-driving cars offer one possible solution, but there’s no telling how long it will be before the technology is proven in city driving under any weather conditions, or if governments will allow their broad commercial operation soon. In the meantime, the rideshare industry races against the clock, and quickly vanishing piles of invested cash.