Uber Said to Plan I.P.O. Price Range Valuing Company as High as $90 Billion

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber plans to set a price range for its initial public offering that would value it at as much as $90 billion, a person with knowledge of the situation said on Thursday, in a sign of caution amid a flood of highly hyped tech offerings.

The world’s largest ride-hailing company, Uber plans to offer its shares to investors for $44 to $50 each, putting its total valuation between $80 billion and $90 billion, said this person, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

In that range, Uber would fall short of the $100 billion valuation that it would have reached based on earlier pricing it shared with some investors, though it would still be above the $76 billion it was appraised at in its most recent private fund-raising in August.

Lyft, Uber’s chief rival in the ride-hailing industry, got off to a turbulent start in public markets. In the weeks since Lyft’s shares began trading, they have skidded below their offering price, making it more of a challenge for Uber to pitch itself to investors.

Lyft was the first ride-hailing business to go public, and stock investors are closely watching its progress to determine how to value the business model. Both companies are growing rapidly, but neither is profitable. Lyft increased its I.P.O. price after meetings with investors suggested there was a strong appetite for the stock, but since the stock began trading Lyft’s valuation has dropped from $24 billion to $16.1 billion.

The rocky start created pressure for Uber to be conservative in its pricing, and avoid “breaking” — or falling below — its I.P.O. price, said Kathleen Smith, a principal at Renaissance Capital, which provides institutional research and I.P.O. exchange-traded funds.

“Lyft acts as a very important valuation benchmark for Uber,” she said. “Uber cannot break its I.P.O. price. The best way to avoid breaking your I.P.O. price is to be conservative when you start out with your valuation.”

Lyft and Uber are among a collection of tech companies headed to the public markets this year. Pinterest and the videoconferencing company Zoom have already made their debuts. The food delivery service Postmates, the workplace messaging app Slack and the home fitness company Peloton are set to follow.

Uber’s potential valuation, which it will finalize when it sets the price for its shares the day before it begins trading next month, nonetheless crowns the company as the most valuable of its generation of tech start-ups.

Many of these companies upended traditional industries like transportation and real estate through mobile apps and a marketplace-based business model that relies on independent contractors.

Over the past decade, Uber, which lets people hail rides through an app and uses freelance drivers, has disrupted the taxi industry and thoroughly changed many people’s travel behavior.

But it is a long way from proving its disruptive business is also a profitable one.

In a recent regulatory filing, Uber said it lost $1.8 billion in 2018 on revenue of $11.3 billion. It also noted that, although the company’s business is still expanding, that growth had slowed. Unlike Lyft, Uber has also begun secondary businesses providing freight shipment and food delivery, which the company said were growing more quickly than its core ride-hailing business.

One of Uber’s most significant costs is the money it spends to create self-driving cars — a long-term project the company hopes can help it pare the money is has to pay its drivers.

It spent $457 million on its development of autonomous vehicles during 2018, but industry watchers believes its program has fallen behind bigger rivals like Waymo, which is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

Uber recently received $1 billion in new funding for the effort from SoftBank and Toyota. The investors valued Uber’s self-driving unit at $7.25 billion.

Uber plans to begin meeting investors in an official roadshow next week, and its underwriters, led by Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, could raise the offering price of its shares if they determine that prospective investors are interested enough. In a letter Uber issued to holders of its convertible bonds this month, the company floated a price range of $48 to $55 for its shares.

Since Lyft’s I.P.O., other companies have been rewarded for playing it safe as they first approached investors. Pinterest, the digital pin board company that went public this month, initially offered its shares to investors at below its last valuation in the private market. By the time of its debut, however, the price range had been raised above that previous valuation.

Uber’s planned price range was reported earlier by Bloomberg.

Even at a $90 billion valuation, Uber would be the third-largest company to enter the United States’ public markets in the last 10 years, topped only by Facebook’s 2012 debut at $104 billion and Alibaba’s I.P.O. in 2014, which valued the e-commerce giant at $167 billion.

Lise Buyer, founder of the Class V Group, an I.P.O. advisory firm, said the lower pricing was a sign that investors were valuing each company on its individual merits, rather than on broader market trends.

“While they will seemingly pay any price for some, more often they will evaluate each company separately,” she said. She added that a once-reported $120 billion price tag for Uber was never set in stone. “No one really knows what price will be on the cover until it’s in black and white,” she said.

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