The Lex Newsletter: magical, mystical metrics

Palantir | Blue Apron | SoftBank | KE Holdings | Bumble | Coinbase | Tether | Infineon
Dear reader,
The tech sector has a new set of magic words: free cash flow. Even Uber, king of cash burn, is feeling the heat.
「We need to show them the money,」 wrote Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi in a memo obtained by the Financial Times. It is an extraordinary message. Oh, NOW Uber needs to prove it can make money? What happened in the previous 13 years?
英國《金融時報》獲得的一份備忘錄中,優步首席執行官達拉•科斯羅薩希(Dara Khosrowshahi)寫道:「我們需要讓他們看到錢。」這是一個非凡的訊息。哦,現在優步需要證明它能賺錢嗎?在過去的13年里發生了什麼?
The question of whether public markets are entering a sustained downturn has focused minds here in San Francisco. If central banks put a definitive end to the era of low rates that made money so cheap, the question is whether growth companies with high valuations will deflate to reasonable levels, or just crash and burn.
Hence the focus on grown-up metrics such as free cash flow, or what』s left over after any investing. Shares in electric car company Tesla are down 39 per cent this year. But speaking at the FT』s Future of the Car conference this week, boss Elon Musk said that his company had a bright future 「and I think we will throw off a tremendous amount of free cash flow」. 
因此,我們關注的是成熟的指標,如自由現金流,或任何投資後的剩餘資金。電動汽車公司特斯拉(Tesla)的股價今年已下跌39%。但上周在英國《金融時報》舉辦的未來汽車大會(Future of the Car)上發言時,特斯拉首席執行官埃隆•馬斯克(Elon Musk)表示,特斯拉擁有光明的未來,「我認為我們將產生大量自由現金流」。
But what do companies do when they have no clear path to profitability? Denver-based data analytics company Palantir tried to get around the problem by riffing on the state of the world.
Markets were not convinced. Its slowing revenue growth does not back up Palantir』s claim of thriving in good times and bad. Shares are down 61 per cent in the year to date. Lex thinks it will require a near-term forecast date for positive net income before Palantir』s shares recover.
New York-based meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron remains profitless after 10 years. This week, it had an even more worrying number to report — sales are half the level they were when it listed in 2017. Lex wonders why RJB Partners is investing $40mn in a private placement. Perhaps it will take the stock private but its behaviour so far has been odd.
總部位於紐約的送餐服務公司Blue Apron在10年後仍然沒有盈利。本周,該公司公布了一個更令人擔憂的數據——銷售額僅為2017年上市時的一半。Lex專欄想知道為什麼RJB Partners要投資四千萬美元進行私募。也許它會將該股票私有化,但迄今為止,它的行為一直很奇怪。
At Japanese technology investment group SoftBank, which has contributed to high tech valuations, Masayoshi Son has put the brakes on its investment pace. Annual net loss has reached ¥1.7tn ($13bn). Lex is curious about what will happen now to the $50bn in capital that has been earmarked for investments.
在日本科技投資集團軟銀(SoftBank),孫正義(Masayoshi Son)放慢了投資步伐。軟銀曾經為高科技企業的估值推波助瀾。而今,其年度凈虧損達到1.7兆日圓(合130億美元)。Lex專欄對已指定用於投資的500億美元資金現在會發生什麼感到好奇。
Lex does applaud founder Son for diversifying away from China as crackdowns increase. The possible US delisting of Chinese online housing platform owner KE Holdings has also encouraged Son to list it in Hong Kong. That will improve liquidity but do little to solve the real problem: China』s faltering property market.
Lex專欄對軟銀創始人孫正義在打擊力度加大的情況下,撤離中國,到別處進行多元化發展表示讚賞。中國在線住房平台所有者貝殼(KE Holdings)可能從美國退市,也鼓勵孫正義在香港上市。這將改善流動性,但對解決真正的問題——中國搖搖欲墜的房地產市場——沒有什麼作用。
Dating app Bumble is still hung up on using adjusted ebitda — but at least sales are growing. Lex is intrigued by the success of its acquisition of France』s Fruitz, which matches users via the medium of fruit. But adding more users via acquisitions will never take Bumble close to the almost 100mn users that Match boasts. Bumble shares are down 38 per cent so far this year.  
Crypto investors have a much harder time pointing to a metric that might support prices. Bad news for US-listed cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, whose price is firmly tethered to the fortunes of bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency. Traders are being warned they could lose all of their crypto assets if the company goes bankrupt — a reminder that this sector lacks the safety net of banks.
Speaking of tethered assets — the not-so stablecoin tether fell below the US dollar to which it is meant to be pegged. US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen has called for stablecoin rules and says there is a risk of financial instability. Lex agrees that if Tether liquidates its $34bn Treasury holdings or $24bn of corporate debt there will be market repercussions. That』s if those numbers are correct. We also point out that Tether has been in trouble over its claims before.  
Rising rates may spell doom for risky assets but European banks should be happy. Think again. At just over seven times forward earnings, Lex thinks the sector does look cheap but prone to credit risk should recession take hold in the next year.
Tangible assets are still rising in price though. Lex wonders if Andy Warhol prints offer an inflation hedge. Over the long term, prices have beaten inflation. But, of course, the pool of buyers is small and susceptible to impulse spending.
但實體資產的價格仍在上漲。Lex想知道安迪·沃霍爾(Andy Warhol)的版畫是否能對沖通脹。從長期來看,價格戰勝了通脹。但是,當然,買家群體很小,容易受到衝動消費的影響。
Perhaps chipmakers are a better bet. Integrated device manufacturers such as Infineon and Samsung are busy completing back orders pushed higher by snagged supply chains. Gartner expects a 13.6 per cent increase in global semiconductor revenues this year.
Russia is thinking carefully about its own supply chains as the EU threatens an oil embargo. Hungary wants a carve-out but, even with exemptions, Lex says an EU ban would have clout. Russia』s ability to replace its main customer will be hit by transport constraints. Energy prices are already rising amid the quarrel. Household bills too. Companies such as Centrica may find it increasingly hard to justify raising shareholder rewards, but the UK energy group will probably do so, believes Lex.
Oil market turmoil could accelerate the transition to clean energy. Shareholders are putting more pressure on global companies to make the change. Not BlackRock, though. The goliath of fund management is swerving some climate change resolutions. But as Lex points out, this is not such a radical decision. BlackRock supported less than half of environmental and social shareholder proposals last proxy season. Still, it is an unwelcome step back.
Enjoy your weekend,
Elaine Moore
伊萊恩·摩爾(Elaine Moore)
Deputy Head of Lex

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