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Uber Freight may be on the way to stand-alone company

When questions were raised in the past about whether Uber Freight fit into the broader value proposition of the Uber parent, those questions were answered by such bold steps as taking on more than $1 billion in outside investments to propel growth or by buying Transplace, merging upstream and downstream parts of the supply chain.

The steps seemed to say that digital brokerage Uber Freight was here to stay within Uber’s larger portfolio of businesses.

Now Bloomberg has reported that Uber is studying whether to spin off Uber Freight as a sale or as a stand-alone publicly traded company. 

The Bloomberg report said Uber “is discussing its options with potential advisers,” citing “people familiar with the matter.” A spokesman for Uber Freight declined comment.

Even with the integration of Transplace complete by the end of 2021, Uber Freight slipped into negative earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2022’s fourth quarter after being barely EBITDA positive in the third quarter ($1 million) after a $5 million positive EBITDA in the second quarter. EBITDA was positive in the first quarter of 2022, the first to reflect the Transplace acquisition. 

Uber Freight revenue in the fourth quarter fell 43% from the same period a year earlier and for the year came in at just under $7 billion. That figure would include revenue from the legacy Transplace business.

One of the anonymous sources quoted by Bloomberg said a decision on how to proceed “isn’t imminent” but that an initial public offering would be a more likely outcome if there was to be a spinoff of the business. 

If the IPO were to occur, it would mark the first time that a digital brokerage company was exposed to the public scrutiny of equity markets. The other major digital brokerages — companies like Convoy — are privately owned. 

However, J.B. Hunt does break out revenue for its J.B. Hunt 360 digital brokerage product within its reporting for its Integrated Capacity Solutions segments. In 2022, J.B. Hunt (NASDAQ: JBHT) reported $1.52 billion of 360 revenue for 2022, down from $1.58 billion a year earlier.

What Uber Freight is valued at on Uber’s books is uncertain. It has taken on two significant investments in recent years. The first was an investment of $500 million from Greenbriar Equity Group in October 2020, with Uber Freight valued at $3.3 billion in the transaction. 

In November 2021, an additional $550 million investment in Uber Freight was made by Abu Dhabi Growth Fund, D1 Capital and GCM Grosvenor. That investment came at the same time that the deal acquiring Transplace closed, with the funding helping to provide the capital needed to close the Transplace purchase. 

Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Justin Post was quick out of the gate with his opinion on the potential sale. 

“We would expect any potential transaction to be market and valuation dependent,” Post said in his report. 

As far as valuations, Post cited recent comparison valuations with several companies, but some of them could be viewed as only tangential comparisons; the model between Uber Freight and a company like Werner (NASDAQ: WERN) or Knight-Swift (NYSE: KNX) differs significantly. Those two companies are truckload carriers with a brokerage division, while Uber Freight is an asset-light digital brokerage. 

But Post also made a comparison with J.B. Hunt and C.H. Robinson (NASDAQ: CHRW), which in the case of Hunt has a significant digital brokerage technology offering or in the case of Robinson is the largest broker in the country.

Using various metrics, Post concluded that a sale of Uber Freight would likely come in at about 1x estimated 2024 revenue, which he put at approximately $7.85 billion. He also estimated Uber Freight’s EBITDA this year to be $139 million, which would be an enormous increase from the way the company exited 2022, posting EBITDA red ink.

Post wrote that a “potential sale of Freight would not be a surprise as management has had a pragmatic view on Uber’s assets, and have shown a willingness to divest when competitive advantages or synergies are not materializing.” 

At the time of the $550 million investment, no value on Uber Freight was available. But a few months earlier, Morgan Stanley had estimated that Uber Freight was worth $3.5 billion, up about $200 million from a year earlier when the Greenbriar investment was announced.

Uber Freight recently reduced its workforce by 3%. All of the layoffs, about 150 in total, came in the brokerage division, not the legacy Transplace business.

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