Some big banks are being cautious about investing early in Uber, since the timing of its big IPO has yet to materialize and the ridesharing giant has been slow to release concrete details about its finances.
The potential fees and reputation boost that could come from working on Uber Technologies Inc.’s initial public offering are the stuff of bankers’ dreams.
Yet at least two investment banks passed on selling shares of Uber to their high-net worth clients — shares eventually sold by other banks in January — because the ride-share company wasn’t willing to provide financial details about its business, people with knowledge of the matter said.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Deutsche Bank AG both turned down the opportunity to offer their wealthiest clients the option to invest in Uber, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.
Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley ended up selling the shares earlier this year through those firms’ private wealth divisions.
JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank were concerned they wouldn’t be able to fill demand for the offering given the lack of specifics, the people said. Deutsche Bank also took into consideration that share sales through banks’ private-wealth divisions are unusual, and it hadn’t done one before, one person said.
The last such offering of a big technology company was more than four years ago. In that case, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. sold private shares of Facebook Inc. to international clients before the company went public in 2012.
With a company like Uber, the major banks play a long game of relationship building to be best positioned when the company does pick banks to go public. While the Uber share sale was run through the private wealth divisions, it may still help put the firms in the company’s good graces. With the timing of any Uber IPO unclear, banks’ willingness to forgo that business is notable.
Before that sale, it seemed like Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and his management team had most of the leverage. For example, the company told bankers if the firms do any business for its biggest U.S. competitor, Lyft Inc., they’d be less likely to be hired, according to people familiar with those discussions.
So far, Kalanick has managed to deflect questions about the timing of the IPO. As recently as last month, he likened Uber to an “early high schooler” being asked to the prom. It’s still a little too soon, he insisted.
That reflected some progress from what he’d said a year earlier: “We’re like eighth graders; we’re in junior high, and someone is telling us that we need to go to the prom.”
Uber hasn’t had any trouble raising money since its founding in 2009, because investors typically want in on a highly valued startup before it goes public and the banks want a shot at a role when it does.
The San Francisco-based company has garnered more than $16 billion in cash and debt since it started more than six years ago, most recently at a valuation of $69 billion. If it were to go public at that level, it would have a higher valuation than almost 90 percent of the companies in the S&P 500 Index.
JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank passed on the opportunity to do business with Uber just as investor sentiment started to change for market-bound technology companies. There was a backlog of closely held Internet companies, with more than 144 valued at more than $1 billion, research firm CB Insights said in a report.
Path to Profitability
Colin Stewart, a managing director at Morgan Stanley who oversees tech financing at the bank, said at the time that private placements would no longer be the place to find “very strong valuations with a plethora of investors hanging around the hoop.”
Underwhelming post-IPO performance by some technology companies, including payments company Square Inc., didn’t help. Investors wanted to see a clear path to profitability.
The 290-page prospectus Morgan Stanley sent to prospective investors before the January sale didn’t include Uber’s net income or annual revenue. The document did include 21 pages of risks, namely competition, regulatory hurdles and no assurance that the clients would see any return on their investment.
The New York-based bank addressed the lack of data in its prospectus, saying “the development of insights and big ideas is valuable to the investment process, whereas obsession over incremental ‘information’ flow is not.”
Uber initially asked Deutsche Bank to be on the offering because it wanted to sell the stock to international investors, one of the people said.
Demand for the offering was higher from international clients than domestic, according to two people familiar with the matter. There was demand for more shares than were offered, another person said.
Despite passing up on a role in the private offering, JPMorgan advised Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund on its $3.5 billion investment in Uber that was announced in June.
A spokesman for Uber declined to comment. Representatives of JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley declined to comment, while a representative for Bank of America didn’t respond to a request for comment.
©2016 Bloomberg L.P.
This article was written by Julie Verhage and Alex Barinka from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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Photo Credit: JP Morgan Chase and Deutsche Bank have declined to sell Uber IPO shares to their wealthiest clients. A traffic jam in New York Cty's Times Square. b k / Flickr