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Uber makes first operating profit as driver shortage eases

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November 4, 2021

By Tina Bellon and Nivedita Balu

(Reuters) -Uber Technologies Inc on Thursday reported its first profitable quarter on an adjusted basis since it launched more than a decade ago with its two most important segments, ride-hailing and restaurant delivery, both turning the corner.

Company executives allayed investor concerns about a shortage of drivers, telling analysts that spending on incentives to entice drivers back on the road after the pandemic was largely behind the company.

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But a massive drop in the value of its stake in Chinese ridehailing company Didi drove a $2.4 billion net loss in the third quarter, and Wall Street viewed Uber’s fourth-quarter forecast as disappointing. Shares bounced in after-hours trade and were up about 1% as Uber briefed Wall Street in a call.

The California-based company reported adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, a measure that excludes one-time costs such as stock-based compensation, of $8 million for the quarter ended Sept. 30. That compared to a loss on the same basis of $625 million a year ago.

Uber forecast an adjusted profit of $25 million to $75 million for the last quarter of 2021. Analysts on average expected $114 million, according to Refinitiv data.

Despite the adjusted profit, Uber’s earnings report came as a disappointment after smaller U.S. rival Lyft Inc on Tuesday reported its second consecutive quarterly adjusted profit at $67.3 million and said it expected adjusted EBITDA of between $70 million and $75 million in the fourth quarter.

Uber’s and Lyft’s operations have yet to become profitable on a net basis, and the companies decline to provide guidance of when that might happen.

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A drop in value of Uber’s holding in Chinese ride service Didi and stock-based compensation payments resulted in a net loss that more than doubled from last year.

Didi, which went public in June, saw its market capitalization drop by billions of dollars after China’s market regulator launched an anti-trust probe https://www.reuters.com/world/china/didi-us-debut-overshadowed-by-china-cybersecurity-probe-2021-07-05.

In Uber’s real-world business, total revenue grew 72% to $4.8 billion, above an average analyst estimate of $4.4 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Uber’s delivery business, which includes restaurant food and store deliveries, emerged as the company’s backbone during the pandemic. Delivery revenue saw a steady increase in the third quarter, signaling that growth in riders did not come at the expense of its Uber Eats unit.

The company’s core restaurant delivery business, which makes up some 96% of delivery gross bookings, was profitable for the first time on an adjusted EBITDA basis in the third quarter, Uber said.

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Consumers were traveling in greater numbers in the third quarter and its driver and courier base had grown by nearly 640,000 people since January, Uber said. The company spent more than $250 million https://www.reuters.com/technology/uber-lyft-tout-us-ride-hail-driver-pay-incentives-amid-demand-uptick-2021-04-07 to lure drivers back after the pandemic.

Uber did not provide data on how driver numbers compared to pre-pandemic levels. Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi said the company wanted to grow its driver base beyond 2019 levels to meet expected demand.

Ride bookings in the quarter remained more than 20% below third-quarter levels in 2019, but Uber said ride unit margins had returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“Investors want to see a meaningful recovery in the gross bookings for Uber’s ride-hailing service which is a high-margin business compared to UberEats,” said Haris Anwar, an analyst at Investing.com.

While Uber said Halloween weekend surpassed 2019, demand from riders traveling for parties and fun is at about 80% of pre-pandemic levels, executives said during an analyst earnings call.

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U.S. airport trips, among the most profitable routes in the industry, increased in recent weeks, but lagged all other ride categories, remaining around 33% below pre-pandemic levels.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin, Texas and Nivedita Balu in Bangaluru; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Investors brace for potential hit to earnings because of Omicron

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December 6, 2021

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As details of a new COVID-19 variant emerge, investors are bracing for a potential hit to U.S. corporate earnings, particularly among retailers, restaurants and travel companies.

News of the Omicron variant comes in the middle of the holiday shopping period, and many businesses are already struggling with higher inflation and supply chain snags because of the pandemic.

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That is putting the focus again on these companies affected by the reopening of the economy, said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco in New York.

“Are we still going to see traffic into restaurants and retailers, or at least retailers that derive most of their revenue from in-store traffic as opposed to online?” she said. “The other area of vulnerability of course is supply chain disruptions.”

She and other strategists said it’s too early to tell the extent to which the variant could affect earnings.

The Omicron variant that captured global attention in South Africa less than two weeks ago has spread to about one-third of U.S. states, but the Delta version accounts for the majority of COVID-19 infections as cases rise nationwide, U.S. health officials said on Sunday.

Goldman Sachs on Saturday cited risks and uncertainty around the emergence of the Omicron variant as it cut its outlook for U.S. economic growth to 3.8% for 2022. While the variant could slow economic reopening, the firm expects “only a modest drag” on service spending, it said in a note.

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U.S. companies have just wrapped up a much stronger-than-expected third-quarter earnings season, and the rate of fourth-quarter earnings year-over-year growth has been expected to be well below the previous quarter’s.

Analysts see fourth-quarter S&P 500 earnings up 21.6% from the year-ago quarter, while third-quarter earnings growth was at about 43%, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

That fourth-quarter forecast has not changed since Nov. 26, just after the new variant became headline news.

Omicron may be affecting travel plans. Airline shares have already come under pressure, with the NYSE Arca airline index down 8.3% since the close of the session before Nov. 26.

For companies, “the significance of the impact will depend on how long the Omicron measures last,” said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia. “There will be some short-term impact… It’ll surely cause some short-term disruption to travel.”

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Colin Scarola, a vice president of equity research at CFRA, wrote in a Dec. 2 note on the airline sector that while details of the variant are still emerging, trends in U.S. air travel over recent months with the Delta variant may give some insight into what could happen to travel under the Omicron variant.

“This recent history tells us that most people have already accepted the material risk of infection with a Covid-19 variant when fully vaccinated. But knowing that risk of severe illness remains very low, they’ve been comfortable flying on airplanes,” he wrote.

Compounding concerns about the 2022 earnings outlook are higher costs for companies, with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell last week signaling that inflation risks are rising and numerous companies citing rising costs during the third-quarter earnings season.

Even before the Omicron news, Tuz said investors were reading “more and more about inflation and wages and other inputs,” and that was expected to continue into 2022.

“I don’t know if the ability to pass along these higher costs is going to exist as much,” he said.

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(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Alden Bentley and Nick Zieminski)

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Bank investment chiefs signal China and emerging market caution

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December 6, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) -Market volatility and uncertainty over China’s indebted property sector is making bank investment chiefs cautious about its assets, amid more general nervousness about broader emerging markets.

“I would take a wait-and-see approach on emerging markets,” Credit Suisse global chief investment officer Michael Strobaek told the Reuters annual Investment Outlook Summit.

“I would take a day-by-day, week-by-week approach to China, to see what’s unfolding on the default side and the policy side,” he said, referring to problems in the country’s giant corporate debt sector.

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“Only if I see real deep opportunities, I’d go back in.”

Willem Sels, Global CIO, Private Banking & Wealth Management, HSBC, said clients needed to take a longer term view on emerging markets after many were hurt by recent volatility.

“We have a neutral view on China, we try to diversify,” he said.

“We try to get the confidence of investing in China. We try to align ourselves with what is clear in terms of government policy, and that’s the net zero transmission.”

Investors can still “find some winners” in China by digging down into areas like green tech and 5G-related businesses where the government was showing significant support, said Mark Haefele, CIO at UBS Global Wealth Management.

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(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes, Sujata Rao and Dhara Ranasinghe; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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IMF says euro zone should keep supporting economy, high inflation is temporary

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December 6, 2021

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Euro zone governments should continue to spend to support the COVID-19 economic recovery, though in an increasingly focused way, and consolidate public finances only when it is firmly under way, the International Monetary Fund said on Monday.

In a regular report on the euro zone economy presented to the group’s finance ministers, the IMF noted, however, that while consolidation itself could wait, a credible way of how it would be done in the future should be announced already now.

“Policies should remain accommodative but become increasingly targeted, with a focus on mitigating potential rises in inequality and poverty,” the IMF said.

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“Fiscal policy space should be rebuilt once the expansion is firmly underway, but credible medium-term consolidation plans should be announced now,” it said.

The Fund also noted that the rise in inflation, which hit a record high of 4.9% on a year-on-year basis in November, was temporary and, therefore, not a big threat because it did not translate into a spike in wages, called a second-round effect.

“Recent inflation readings have surprised on the upside, but much of the increase still appears transitory, with large second-round effects unlikely,” the report said, adding that the European Central Bank’s monetary policy should therefore continue to be accommodative.

“Structural reforms and high-impact investment, including in climate-friendly infrastructure and digitalization, remain crucial to enhancing resilience and boosting potential growth,” the IMF said.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Paul Simao)

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