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High prices spell no demand problem for resurgent Uber and Lyft

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November 8, 2021

By Tina Bellon and Nivedita Balu

(Reuters) – Uber and Lyft are emerging from the pandemic as leaner, lower-cost companies with a long-elusive operating profit and the unexpected power to raise prices without alienating riders.

Ride-hail fares have surged to unprecedented levels this year due to a driver shortage. Much to the companies’ delight, riders so far appear undeterred, flocking back to the platforms in ever-greater numbers.

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“I think there is generally more pricing power than anyone ever realized existed in the industry,” Lyft Inc Chief Financial Officer Brian Roberts said on Tuesday.

On Thursday Uber Technologies Inc Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi called the current environment a “giant pricing experiment.”

“Even with prices being up…, we’re seeing that as cities reopen, people start using the product, and they use it a lot,” Khosrowshahi said.

The shift marks a significant turning point for the former start-ups, which for years sacrificed profitability to add customers, undercutting each other with consumer discounts and driver bonuses.

According to an analysis by YipitData, which tracks email receipts, average per-mile U.S. ride-hail charges in the third quarter were nearly 25% higher than in the comparable period in 2019.

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(GRAPHIC: U.S. consumers keep paying more for ride-hail trips – https://graphics.reuters.com/UBER-LYFT/PRICING/mypmnknrnvr/index.html)

For airport trips, which rank among Uber’s and Lyft’s most profitable routes, price increases were even steeper. The average fare for a trip to and from Chicago’s O’Hare airport jumped nearly 50% in the third quarter compared to 2019, according to a Reuters analysis of city data.

(GRAPHIC: Rise in ride-hail prices at Chicago’s O’Hare airport – https://graphics.reuters.com/UBER-LYFT/PRICING/zdvxonownpx/index.html)

(GRAPHIC: Ride-hail trips at Chicago O’Hare still far down – https://graphics.reuters.com/UBER-LYFT/PRICING/egpbkakwxvq/chart.png)

Higher prices benefit the companies, which take a percentage cut from each ride. They also have resulted in record earnings for drivers, who also benefited from massive driver incentives paid by Uber and Lyft to lure them back, the companies said. Uber drivers and food couriers in the third quarter earned $8.6 billion, 60% more than the year prior, with driver pay growth outpacing that of gross bookings, Uber said Thursday.

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While total driver supply remains below pre-pandemic levels, the companies said they were confident more drivers would return without additional incentives. They said they would taper off additional driver bonuses in the coming months.

Lyft’s Roberts said the company would fund driver incentives during particularly busy times through elevated consumer prices.

“We will likely see elevated prices for some time, particularly given the inflationary environment we are experiencing now,” said Michael Erstad, an analyst at research firm M Science.

Uber’s delivery business, which emerged as a backbone during the pandemic, also has avoided a post-pandemic let down.

Uber on Thursday reported stable delivery bookings, even as more people resumed going out. Its core restaurant delivery business Eats even reported its first operating profit, driven by better cost management and fewer consumer discounts, Uber said.

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Higher prices combined with more efficient budgeting could boost margins in the coming year.

Both companies made drastic cuts during the pandemic to reduce their overall cost base. Those efficiencies, particularly in variable costs, will show as demand scales back up, the companies said.

But as inflationary concerns rise and ridership levels remain some 35% below pre-pandemic levels, Uber and Lyft need to strike a balance between price increases and consumer loyalty.

“There will always be a ride at today’s price point, which might be a faster pickup,” Lyft President John Zimmer said in a Reuters interview. “But it’s really about finding the right ride for the right customer at the right time,” he said, adding that consumers wanting a cheaper ride might have to wait longer.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin, Texas and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Henderson and David Gregorio)

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Bukele steps up El Salvador’s bet on sliding bitcoin; buys another 150 coins

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December 5, 2021

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – El Salvador President Nayib Bukele said the Central American country had acquired an additional 150 bitcoins after the digital currency’s value slumped again, enlarging his bet on the cryptocurrency despite criticism.

Bitcoin, the world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, is down about 30% from the year’s high of $69,000 on Nov. 10. Bukele said last week that El Salvador had acquired 100 additional coins to take advantage of the currency weakening.

Late on Friday, Bukele announced the government had stepped into the market again.

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“El Salvador just bought the dip! 150 coins at an average USD price of ~$48,670,” Bukele wrote on Twitter.

Until Nov. 26, El Salvador had 1,220 bitcoins.

In September El Salvador became the world’s first nation to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, a move that generated global media attention but also attracted criticism from the opposition and foreign financial institutions.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Monday that El Salvador should not use bitcoin as legal tender, considering risks related to the cryptocurrency.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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Bitcoin falls 9.2% to $48,782

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December 4, 2021

(Reuters) – Bitcoin dropped 9.29% to $48,752.15 at 22:01 GMT on Saturday, losing $4,991.54 from its previous close.

Bitcoin, the world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, is down 29.3% from the year’s high of $69,000 on November 10.

Ether, the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, dropped 3.61% to $4,070.52 on Saturday, losing $152.28 from its previous close.

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(Reporting by Juby Babu in Bengaluru; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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Trump’s social media venture says it has raised $1 billion

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December 4, 2021

By Krystal Hu and Juby Babu

(Reuters) – Donald Trump’s new social media venture said on Saturday it had entered into agreements to raise about $1 billion from a group of unidentified investors as it prepares to float in the U.S. stock market.

The capital raise, details of which were first reported by Reuters on Wednesday, underscored the former U.S. president’s ability to attract strong financial backing thanks to his personal and political brand. He is working to launch a social media app called TRUTH Social that is at least several weeks away.

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Digital World Acquisition Corp, the blank-check acquisition firm that will take Trump Media & Technology Group Corp public by listing it in New York, said it will provide up to $293 million to the partnership with Trump’s media venture, taking the total proceeds to about $1.25 billion.

The $1 billion will be raised through a private investment in public equity (PIPE) transaction from “a diverse group of institutional investors,” Trump Media and Digital World said in a statement. They did not respond to requests to name the investors.

Trump Media inked its deal with Digital World to go public in October at a valuation of $875 million, including debt. The social media venture is now valued at almost $4 billion based on the price of Digital World shares at the end of trading on Friday. Trump supporters and day traders snapped up the stock.

Many Wall Street firms such as mutual funds and private equity firms snubbed the opportunity to invest in the PIPE. Among those investors who participated were hedge funds, family offices and high net-worth individuals, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Family offices manage the wealth of the very rich and their kin.

Some Wall Street investors are reluctant to associate with Trump. He was banned from top social media platforms after the Jan. 6 attack by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol amid concerns he would inspire further violence. The Capitol attack was based on unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in last year’s presidential election.

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“As our balance sheet expands, Trump Media & Technology Group will be in a stronger position to fight back against the tyranny of Big Tech,” Trump said in a statement on Saturday.

The deal also faces regulatory risk. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren asked Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler last month to investigsate the planned merger for potential violations of securities laws around disclosure. The SEC has declined to comment on whether it plans any action.

Trump Media and Digital World said the per-share conversion price of the convertible preferred stock PIPE transaction represents a 20% discount to Digital World’s volume-weighted average closing price for the five trading days to Dec. 1, when Reuters broke news of the capital raise.

If that price averages below $56 in the 10 days after the merger with Digital World has been completed, the discount will grow to 40% with a floor of $10, the companies added. Digital World shares ended trading on Friday $44.97.

Trump had 89 million followers on Twitter, 33 million on Facebook and 24.5 million on Instagram at the time he was blocked, according to a presentation on his company’s website.

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Investors attending the confidential investor road shows were shown a demo from the planned social media app, which looked like a Twitter feed, Reuters reported.

FIRST-QUARTER ROLLOUT

Since Trump was voted out of office last year, he has repeatedly dropped hints that he might seek the presidency in 2024.

Special purpose acquisition companies such as Digital World had lost much of their luster with retail investors before the Trump media deal came along. Many of these investors were left with big losses after the companies that merged with SPACs failed to deliver on their ambitious financial projections.

TRUTH Social is scheduled for a full rollout in the first quarter of 2022. It is the first of three stages in the Trump Media plan, followed by a subscription video-on-demand service called TMTG+ that will feature entertainment, news and podcasts, according to the news release.

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In a slide deck on its website, the company envisions eventually competing against Amazon.com’s AWS cloud service and Google Cloud.

(Reporting by Juby Babu in Bengaluru and Krystal Hu in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)

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