Today, The Wall Street Journal reported that Uber, the world’s wealthiest startup, is seeking up to $2 billion in loans from institutional investors, as it continues to bleed cash in most of its markets outside the US. The money would come from the leveraged-loan market, which is an untraditional place for startups like Uber to seek cash.
According to the Journal, Uber is tapping two banks, Barclays and Morgan Stanley, to sell a leveraged loan of $1 billion to $2 billion, although there is no guarantee the deal will take place. Uber is also planning on issuing debt in the coming weeks, but no word on how much. The move comes on the heels of the ride-hailing company’s sale of $3.5 billion in equity from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
It’s also a sign of Uber’s insatiable hunger for cash, and underscores the high cost of the ride-hailing company’s bid to become the world’s dominant transportation app. Last week, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told an audience in Berlin that the company is profitable in the developed world, but "massively unprofitable" in developing nations. And several months ago, he told a Canadian newspaper that Uber was losing around $1 billion a year in China alone.
The dominant ride-hail app in that country, Didi Chuxing, just reported raising $600 million from China Life Insurance, as part of a $3.5 billion round of financing that could value the company at $25 billion. Last month, Didi received a $1 billion investment from Apple, which provoked a sardonic reply from Kalanick.
Last December, Uber was valued at $62.5 billion, making it far-and-away the most valuable tech startup in the world.
The fact that Uber is looking to the leveraged-loan market for more cash could be interpreted as troubling times for the company. By definition, leveraged loans are often issued to companies with considerable amounts of debt. The loans carry a higher risk of default and, as a result, a leveraged loan is more costly to the borrower, according to Bain Capital.
It’s just the latest financial gimmick that Uber has reached for in its unstoppable cash grab. Last February, reports surfaced that Morgan Stanley and Bank of America were encouraging clients with net worths of at least $10 million to invest in a fund call the New Rider LP, which would have directly benefited Uber. Investors aren't allowed to view any of Uber's financial information, which in essence means they are making blind bets on the company.
All of which begs the question: when will Uber go public, so its many investors can start to see a return on all the cash they’ve been funneling into the startup? In Berlin, Kalanick said that an IPO won't be happening any time soon. Asked when exactly, the CEO (with the expired driver’s license) replied, "between one and 10 years."