Curious what Uber is spending the record $1.2 billion in cash it raised in its most recent funding round (which valued it at a whopping $18.2 billion)? The answer: subsidies.
In a page right out of Amazon's playbook, the management of Uber has found that the best use of proceeds now that it may have finally saturated addressable markets, is to use its cash on hand to fund sub-equilibrium pricing losses and in the process, hopefully, put its competition out of business.
Earlier today, the Uber blog announced that UberX is "now cheaper than a New York City taxi." It added the following:
We just dropped uberX fares by 20%, making it cheaper than a New York City taxi. From Brooklyn to the Bronx, and everywhere in between, uberX is now the most affordable ride in the city.
KEEP IN MIND
These prices are only in effect for a limited time. The more you ride, the more likely we can keep them this low!
We know you may be asking yourself how this affects our partner drivers. What we’ve seen in cities across the county is that lower fares mean greater demand, lower pickup times and more trips per hour — increasing earning potential and creating better economics for drivers. What does what mean in the long run? They’ll be making more than ever!
"More than ever", at least until the subsidy cash runs out. And since Uber's valuation is one that will make sense only if Uber effectively manages to put the bulk of the legacy taxi business in the US out of business, the conflict with the existing cab industry is about to go into overdrive.
Because while one may or may not believe that Uber will ultimately succeed in putting NYC's cab drivers out of business, and it is very much doubtful if legacy Yellow Cabs will follow Uber in its price dumping strategy, one thing is certain: the value of a New York Yellow Cab Medallion, which about a year ago hit a record $1.3 million price, will suffer - at least in the near-term - as the conflict between Uber and Yellow Cab picks up, and as the NYC market is suddenly flooded with countless providers of cab-equivalent services.
Recall from August of last year:
The best returning asset class traded in the NY Metro area is yellow but doesn't change hands on Wall Street. As ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, over the last 12 months New York City taxi medallions have risen 49% in price, besting the relatively humdrum returns of the S&P 500 (up 21%), the NASDAQ (22%) and the Dow (18%). Medallions – essentially the right to operate a for-hail taxi in New York City – now trade for as much as $1.3 million, an all-time record.
Part of this dynamic is fixed supply – there are just 13,336 medallions available for a city of 8.3 million people. There is also a macroeconomic point, with a stronger NYC economy for those inhabitants who can afford the service. The more surprising observation, however, is that new technology in the form of in-car credit card machines and more recently smartphone hailing apps both materially increase the value of owning a medallion. In a world where every technology is deemed “Disruptive”, here’s a case where the status quo has actually reaped much of the reward.
Alas, there is no way to short the Medallion "price" which with the ongoing private status of Uber makes arbing the future of the cab industry rather difficult except for the most connected institutional investors, those which will have no choice but to keep investing in future Uber rounds at ever higher valuations until one day the Amazon strategy of beggar thy competitor either succeeds or fails.
And while the future of this particular Uber tactic is unknown, what most investors in the startup are wondering is what will its fate be in its largest addressable market, China. It is here where a far more notable development has taken place, with Bloomberg reporting that Hangzhou Kuaidi Technology Co., a taxi-booking service backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is adding luxury cars in China to boost revenue as it steps up its challenge to Uber Technologies Inc.
Kuaidi is targeting wealthy travelers with a new smartphone application as it partners with chauffeur companies in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, Chief Executive Officer Dexter Lu said in an interview. The new cars include the 5-Series from Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Audi AG’s A6.
Uber and Kuaidi are competing with Didi Taxi, which is backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd. (700), for a bigger slice of China’s 500 million users who access the Internet from their phones and are boosting use of location-based services. The new app, known as “Yi Hao Zhuan Che” in Chinese, is part of Lu’s push for a revenue model to sustain the business, which generated 50 million yuan ($8 million) of sales last month.
“We operate under a similar model as Uber does in China,” Lu said on July 4. “Our work load will be very heavy in the second half, but it’s also very exciting.”
Uber, which has valuation of $17 billion after a recent funding round, is expanding in China and hiring in 14 cities, according to a July 1 LinkedIn post. The San Francisco-based company has been targeting customers in China willing to pay a premium for the luxury of tracking the vehicle’s approach, not handling local cash and finding daily newspapers and a Wi-Fi access inside the car.
Looks like "zero barriers to entry" is a popular saying for a reason.
One thing is certain: the winner from this competition, however long it may last and whoever the corporate loser may be, are consumers.