Weekly readings – 15th February 2020

An interesting piece on Lyft vs Uber

An argument for the challenges that Google is facing

This is what a hearing should be. Not the kind that has taken place lately

Spotify is evolving

Oklahoma State’s new identity. In my opinion, the new logo doesn’t look bad at all

This article sheds some light on the secretive S team at Amazon

The government’s revenue depends significantly on the tax receipts from citizens and corporations. So the revenue projection depends much on the assumptions of economic growth which seem too optimistic. It’s important to take into account the feasibility of these assumptions; which the media may not capture fully or an average citizen cares enough about

Thoughts and notes on Uber's latest earnings

On 6th February 2020, Uber announced its Q4 FY2019 earnings. Below are some of the thoughts I had from reading their press release

Take Rate

Uber defines take rate as the result of adjusted net revenue divided by gross bookings. In a layman’s terms, it is the amount of Uber takes from what riders pay for rides, after paying drivers their share. In Q4 2019, the take rate reached 20.6% compared to 18.7% in Q4 2018. It meant that out of $100 taken from riders, Uber took in more money in 2019 than in 2018

Source: Uber

However, if we look at 2019 as a whole, take rate dropped to 19.8%, compared to 20.7% in 2018, almost a full 1% lower.

Source: Uber

Overall, in the second half of FY 2019, Uber had higher take rates overall, for Rides and for Eats individually than in the second half of FY 2018. However, the gain was sufficient to make up for the deficit of the first half of FY 2019 to the first half of FY 2018. As you can see from the graph above, Eats provided a terrible take rate, compared to Rides.

Driver Incentives and Driver Referrals

The incentives and referrals help reflect the health of the brand and business. Low payout for incentives and referrals means that Uber spent less money to recruit drivers and increase rides. Incentives and referrals are usually presented in this manner by Uber

Source: Uber

I calculated the ratio of Adjusted Net Revenue (ANR) over revenue in 2018 and 2019 for both Rides and Eats. The higher the figures, the better for Uber

Apparently, it keeps getting better and better for Rides. On the Eats side, Uber seemed to recover from the slump in Q3 and Q4 2018.

Rides

Rides continues to be the silver lining in the EBITDA area for Uber. It is the only segment with positive EBITDA in Q4 2019 or FY 2019 as a whole.

Source: Uber

It’s even better for Uber that YoY growth for Rides EBITDA (34%) is bigger than that for Rides Bookings (18%), Revenue (27%) and ANR (30%).

Eats

Eats registered the biggest loss among Uber’s segments in Q4 2019. Uber may find it encourage the fact that Eats’ Q4 loss is only 111% of ANR, compared to 168% in the same period last year.

Uber recently announced the divestiture of Uber Eats in India. Since Uber Eats was losing money and users in India, the decision looked a wise one and in line with the strategy pursued by the company.

Source: Atom Finance

CEO of Uber revealed on the earnings call that Uber Eats in the US made up almost 39% in gross bookings of the global Eats GB ($1.7 bn out of $4.374 bn). There are 400,000 active restaurants in the US on the Eats side, up by 78% YoY.

Freight

Freight’s Q4 loss was a tad more than 25% of its ANR, compared to a bit more than 18% of the same period last year. Not a trend that Uber would want in their quest to become profitable.

Cost structure

On a full year basis, only depreciation as % of revenue decreased in 2019, compared to 2018. Overall, operating cost and expenses increased significantly in 2019, reaching 161% of revenue in 2019. However, Q4 2019 provided a brighter picture for Uber. Only R&D as % of revenue went up in the quarter, compared to the same period last year, especially given that operating expenses as % of revenue in Q4 2018 were higher than those of FY2018.

Good bits of information here and there

  • Uber for Business’ Gross Bookings made up 9% of the total GB
  • In Q4 2019, Uber Rewards Program had 25 million subscribers from multiple markets, up from 18 million from the US alone reported in Q3 2019
  • Multiple-app users had almost 3 times the number of transactions as single users

Thoughts

Though challenges remain, including those posed by local authorities threatening to impose infavorable regulations, driver/rider safety and competition, Q4 2019 seemed to offer the team at Uber and bull investors something to be optimistic about.

In an ideal world, I would love to see more transparency regarding:

  • Margin of products such as Uber for Business, Airport, Helicopter, Comfort, Scooter
  • Margin of Eats in the US or products in the key market
  • More details on subscriptions
  • Engagement data regarding the use of multiple apps per user

My thought on Mitt Romney's decision

The impeachment hearing is over. The result is exactly what many who had been following this saga and I expected. The defendant was acquitted along the party line. Much of the noise that came out of the hearing was Mitt Romney’s decision to join Democrat senators to vote in favor of the article(s) of impeachment. Ever since, the former presidential candidate has received plenty of praise for the act.

I wouldn’t particularly get on that train and give him total credit. To be clear, I am in no position to speculate what was behind Senator Romney’s decision to support the impeachment. His coming out to support the Democrats was at the end of the hearing when it was mathematically impossible to remove the President from office. His decision came already too late and looked suspiciously a bit self-serving.

The main reason why I suspected the Senator’s motive was that he didn’t vote to subpoena evidence and witnesses. He already swore his oath at the beginning of the hearing and I believe in my heart, regardless of how I would have preferred the trial to turn out, that his duty was to be as impartial and fair as possible. Impartiality would involve getting as much information and truth to light as possible and that meant calling for evidence and witnesses. Had he come out in support of the subpoenas, other Republican senators on the fence would have had more leverage and support. Democrats would have had more momentum. THAT would have been a true and undisputed example of courage and upholding the faith that he talked about.

I believe that Senator Romney’s character played a role in his decision. I am not that paranoid or cynical. However, I would have believed him more if he had come out in the end and said: sorry everybody, I messed up on the subpoena votes, I am sorry and I now support the article(s) of impeachment. Or if he had voted on the call for witnesses or evidence. It’s exceedingly tough for me to overlook the fact that he went along with his party at the expense of the oath that he took.

Notes from Disney's Q1 2020 earnings call

Today, Disney announced its Q1 2020 results. There are a lot to unpack as the business is pretty diverse. I am just covering some of the stuff I mainly care about.

Overall, revenue increased 36% year over year. The effect from investments in Disney+ is reflected on operating income which increased only by 9% compared to last year

Parks made up 35% of Disney’s revenue, but more than 58% of its operating income. Parks also provided the largest margin at 32% among Disney’s segments, followed by Media Networks.

Subscribers

  • Disney+: 28.6 million paid subscribers as of 3rd February 2020 from US, Canada, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand
  • ESPN+ 7.6 million paid subscribers as of 3rd February 2020
  • Hulu has 30.7 million paid subscribers as of 3rd February 2020

Given that Disney publicly set a target of 60-90 million paid subscribers worldwide and of profitability in 2024, it is a promising start to reach the 28-million mark already just a few months after launch. Bob Iger wisely tried to play down any enthusiasm from the figures by citing the inability to point out the reason for the growth and uncertainty in the key international markets where Disney+ will debut soon.

Average Revenue Per User

The dip in ESPN+ and Hulu SVOD APRU was attributed to the bundle that offers Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu Ad Supported for $12.99/month. Regarding the Hulu APRU, it’s even higher the non-ads subscription of $11.99/month. Christine McCarthy, Disney’s CFO, had the following comment:

The ad supported, the product is priced at $5.99. And but the ad-supported part of the equation makes the ARPU come out even higher than the ad-free. Most of the subscribers subscribe to the ad-supported. So that’s a good balance of the ARPUs when you stack them up next to each other.

Source: Atom Finance

Regarding the APRU of Disney+, since the service is offered at different pricing tiers including the promotion with Verizon, the 3-year plan last year, the bundle and full price, it’s difficult as to what to make out of the figure. Below are a few things from the earnings call:

  • 50% subscribers came directly from disney.com
  • Bob Iger mentioned “20% of those subscribers” came from Verizon. The comment in the earnings call wasn’t clear, but he clarified it in this interview with CNBC
  • Most subscribers came from the US
  • Conversion from free-to-pay and churn rates were better than what Disney had expected
  • No significant churn after Mandalorian Season 1 ended

Other notes

  • “It was 65% of the people who watch Mandalorian watch at least 10 other things”
  • Each Disney+ subscriber spent 6-7 hours every week on the service
  • 18-22% guests to parks were international guests
  • “Attendance at our domestic parks was up 2% in the first quarter, and per capita guest spending was up 10% on higher admissions, merchandise and food and beverage spending. Per room spending at our domestic hotels was up 4%, and occupancy was 92%. So far this quarter, domestic resort reservations are pacing up 4% compared to this time last year, and booked rates at our domestic hotels are currently pacing up 10%.”
  • The fight between McGregor and Tyrone brough “1 million pay-per-view purchases and 0.5 million new subscribers”

Disclosure: I own Disney stocks in my personal portfolio

Weekly readings – 1st Feb 2020

This post is a little bit late since I have been sick the whole weekend

The decade of the very poor and the super rich

A good read on marketplace and under-utilized assets

How the Dutch Use Architecture to Feed the World. I didn’t know that Netherlands is the second biggest exporter of agricultural products in the world.

Uber tests letting drivers set their own prices. I never thought Uber would, one day, let drivers set up their own price, but apparently they seem to be experimenting on it. I wonder whether Lyft will follow suit and whether this development will pave the way for aspirational startups.

I am very disgusted and disappointed by Southwest. After all the consequences that Boeing has had to face in the aftermath of Boeing 737 Max, Southwest still doesn’t learn the lesson. I hope they will soon

Southwest pilots flew more than 17 million passengers on planes with unconfirmed maintenance records over roughly two years, and in 2019 smashed both wingtips of a jet on a runway while repeatedly trying to land amid gale-force winds, according to the Transportation Department report, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Source: WSJ

An Electronic Heath Records system provider worked with a drugmaker to implicitly encourage more opioid prescriptions to patients, despite an alarming rate of deaths by overdose.

Groundwork for the deal between the companies began in 2013, according to the statement of facts agreed to by Practice Fusion under a deferred prosecution agreement. The idea was to get the opioid maker’s pain drugs to certain kinds of patients: ones who weren’t taking opioids, or those being prescribed the company’s less profitable products. It also aimed to secure longer prescriptions, according to the court papers.

Source: Bloomberg

Today I learned – 30th Jan 2020

Rise of contactless payment reported by Visa and Mastercard

It is so much faster and easier to just tap your card or phone on a reader than to use the chip or swipe. The frictionlessness of this payment method has clearly wowed users enough that it is on a rise, especially in the US.

In the card-present environment, we continue to see meaningful momentum in tap to pay, what we consider to be the most friction-free way to pay in person. We have reached a point where 1 in every 3 card-present transactions that runs over our network is [tax] versus 1 in 4 a year ago this quarter. This past year, we’ve doubled the number of countries whose face-to-face transactions are at least 2/3 contactless.

Transit continues to be a key user case and an important way to habituate tapping behavior. In New York City, on the NPA, Visa crossed 2 million taps in November from the beginning of the pilot and 3 million in January. The FDA recently announced the tap-to-pay expansion to their entire system by the end of 2020, and we are currently pacing a 350,000 Visa taps a week on the MTA and nearly 1 in every 10 transactions in the New York Metro area is a tap-to-pay on a Visa card.

Source: Visa in its Q1 2020 Earnings Call Transcript, provided by Atom Finance

Echoing the sentiment was Mastercard in its Q4 2019 Earnings Call

..On to contactless, where as I said, we’re making real progress. This quarter, contactless made up over 30% of global card-present purchased (inaudible). Contactless provides a frictionless and fast payment experience, which is opening new categories of spend, including displacing cash on small-ticket purchases. The U.S. point for growth on this front and the New York City MTA is a good example of the potential for rapid adoption by consumers. In fact, they surpassed 5 million taps since the launch in May. And the MTA has planned to roll out contactless acceptance system-wide by the end of 2020.

I’m pretty certain that U.S. contactless will keep growing throughout 2020 quite attractively. Because if you look at the numbers of the number of bank partners that have committed to issue contactless cards for a [minute], let’s even forget Apple Pay and Samsung Pay that enable every card through their archive to be used. If you just look at the number of cards, we are talking about 70% of our total cards in the U.S. market will be reissued over this 12-month to 14-month period. My own personal cards are already contactless from Citi.

On the acceptance side, kind of all new terminals going on are embedded with contactless. So (inaudible) large retailers Target and 7-Eleven and CVS have announced that they will accept contactless payments. And in fact, over half of U.S. card-present transactions are now happening at contactless-enabled merchant locations. And when the MT rolls in on system-wide in New York City, and there are other transit systems beginning to do the same in their cities, I think you will get the impetus.

Source: Atom Finance

Vietnam as an important emerging market for Apple

My country was mentioned repeatedly in the latest earnings call of Apple. In a positive light that makes me think that we are going to be, if we are not already, an important emerging market for the Cupertino-based company

Geographically, we established all-time revenue records in many major developed and emerging markets including, among others, the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Source: Seeking Alpha

For iPad, we saw growth in key emerging markets like Mexico, India, Turkey, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam

Source: Seeking Alpha

Phone revenue of $56 billion grew 8% year-over-year, as we saw a great customer response to the launch of our newest iPhones. We set all-time revenue records in several countries, including the U.S. Mexico, the UK, France, Spain, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Source: Seeking Alpha

Productivity and Business Processes keeps leading the margin game for Microsoft

Microsoft has three main business lines:

  • Productivity & Business Processes that includes Office 365 Commercial and Consumer, LinkedIn and Dynamics
  • Intelligent Cloud that includes server products and cloud services led by Azure, and Enterprise service
  • More Personal Computing that includes Gaming, Search, Windows and Surface

Azure likely receives the most attention, yet it is Productivity & Business Processes (PBP) that consistently took the crown in the margin game at Microsoft. In the latest earnings report, Microsoft reported almost 44% margin for PBP

Source: Microsoft
Source: Microsoft

Even though there have been only 2 quarters so far in 2020, the segment has generated more revenue and operating income than the full year 2019

Source: Microsoft