Did Uber just burst the sharing economy bubble?

The ride-hailing company is losing a lot of money these days.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
Expertise Erin has been a tech reporter for almost 10 years. Her reporting has taken her from the Johnson Space Center to San Diego Comic-Con's famous Hall H. Credentials
  • She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
Erin Carson
3 min read

Uber's posted some serious losses this year.

Zhang Peng, LightRocket via Getty Images

Uber's attached to another big number. But it's probably not happy about this one.

By the end of 2015, the ride-hailing company was valued at $62.5 billion. It closed $1.6 billion in financing in January 2015, raised $2 billion in Leveraged-Loan Market in June 2016 and raised $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund around that same time.

Today is a different story. Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter, reports losses for Uber in first half of 2016 total at least $1.27 billion.

The loss throws into question the narrative of the burgeoning sharing economy. The repurposing of resources like cars and apartments is supposed to create jobs, upend businesses and change the way we live. But what does that mean when Uber, one of the giants of this movement, can't turn a profit?

The numbers are discouraging. Uber lost $520 million before taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to Bloomberg. In the second quarter, it lost at least $750 million. Also worrisome were the losses incurred in the US, where it is firmly established in many cities.

Because Uber is a private company, it doesn't have an obligation to disclose its finances. Uber's head of finance, Gautam Gupta, revealed the numbers on a call with shareholders, Bloomberg said, citing anonymous sources.

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gupta attributed the majority of the losses globally to subsidies for Uber drivers, Bloomberg said.

This could be a low point for a company, and given the deal it struck, merging Uber China with Chinese competitor Didi Chuxing at the beginning of August, losses will probably fall going forward because its balance sheet won't have losses from China, according to Bloomberg. That'll help, but is it enough? One idea is that Uber can turn its attention elsewhere.

Altimeter analyst Brian Solis compares Uber to Amazon, another company that's posted losses, but ultimately has much bigger ambitions than just e-commerce. The company wants to change the way you make purchases.

"Uber's introduced an entirely new way to get from point A to point B not just in the United States, but around that world," Solis said. "That comes at a tremendous cost."

Uber won't remain merely a way to catch a ride. It's no secret Uber is testing self-driving cars, which could signal a business model shift in the future. It's not a fast or sure fix. But, Solis said investors are willing to take the risk with the idea that something bigger is coming globally.

Along those lines, Solis isn't worried about the effect of Uber's finances on the sharing economy.

"Uber has long since left behind the sharing economy," he said. Uber's been a catalyst for the on-demand economy, which is evident every time you hear about a company that wants to be Uber of whatever.

It's conditioning consumers to get what they want, when they want it, with a smartphone and an app he said, and that's going to be far more powerful than the sharing economy.

"It's not only paving the way for the future of on-demand transportation but it's also changing consumer expectations for it to bring on-demand services across multiple industries," he said. "Uber is much bigger than transportation."

Watch this: AutoComplete: Self-driving taxis arrive in Singapore