Uber pleasantly surprised investors Tuesday with higher-than-expected revenue and an optimistic forecast for the coming quarter, despite macroeconomic headwinds and significant losses on its investments.
The ride-sharing giant reported a 72 percent revenue jump in the third quarter from a year ago, bringing the total to $8.3 billion. It also forecast gross bookings and profits for the coming quarter that were above Wall Street estimates.
Analysts are chalking up the revenue beat to a rebound in travel and the winding down of other pandemic-era challenges, such as labor shortages and remote working.
"Uber is continuing to see healthy growth as the driver shortage is essentially over while the company continues to benefit from travel returning, shifting to the office, and other post-pandemic trends continue to hold globally with Uber poised to benefit into 2023," said Dan Ives, analyst for Wedbush Securities, in a research note.
However, net losses were higher than expected at $1.2 billion, which Uber said was the result of downward revaluations of its equity investments. Gross bookings, which grew 26 percent year-over-year, also missed expectations.
Why did revenue increase more than gross bookings? Gross bookings represent the total value of Uber's services, while revenue is a broader accounting category that could include any number of assets that generate income for the company. Uber said the massive gap between the two this quarter stems from the "acquisition of Transplace by Uber Freight and a change in the business model for our UK Mobility business." In other words, Uber acquired a company that shifted a giant chunk of revenue onto its books.
Putting aside this one-time event, Uber Freight did worse than last quarter. As John Kingston, analyst for FreightWaves, a website tracking the logistic sector, wrote following the release, "Uber Freight turned in a positive EBITDA in the second quarter of $5 million. But that declined to $1 million in the recently concluded third quarter."
So while revenue got a major boost from the acquisition, profitability is falling for that subsidiary.
Hubert Horan, a transportation expert and long-time critic of Uber, has another explanation for why the company was able to pull in so much revenue: higher prices.
"Uber is now a wildly more expensive service than the traditional taxis it drove out of business, and doesn't offer any of the service advantages it did in its early days," Horan told Cheddar.
Uber doesn't share precise pricing data, but one recent report from Rakuten Intelligence found that the average cost of a ride spiked 92 percent between January 2018 and July 2021.
Shares of Uber rallied around 12 percent today, though the stock is still down nearly 33 percent from a year ago. Its price fell 10 percent after the Biden administration last month unveiled a new regulation that would reclassify ride-sharing contractors as employees. The proposed rule is seeking public comments until November 28.
CEO Dara Khosrowshahi noted during an earnings call Tuesday that the new federal rules "will provide stability going forward" and mark "a return to the framework used during the Obama administration, when the company "grew significantly."
He also noted that the company will continue to work on a state-by-state basis to secure policies that maintain Uber's reliance on gig workers, and that the "trend is in our favor at this point," even as "the road is going to be bumpy."