Russia's Yandex.Taxi's IPO still on, as it struggles to stay profitable

Russia's Yandex.Taxi's IPO still on, as it struggles to stay profitable
Russia's leading taxi hailing service Yandex.Taxi says a planned IPO is still on, just the timing is now a bit vague
By Vladimir Kozlov in Moscow May 25, 2020

Yandex.Taxi, the ride-hailing arm of Russian online giant Yandex, is pushing ahead with its plans to organise its highly anticipated initial public offering (IPO), while struggling to remain profitable amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Earlier this month, Yandex.Taxi CEO Tigran Khudaverdyan was quoted by The Bell as saying that the company has not abandoned plans to go for an IPO but, given the current coronavirus restrictions, this is not a priority. He did not provide any timeline for the mooted IPO, which was originally expected in 2020.

The news about Yandex.Taxi's IPO plans first broke last November, when the company reportedly hired three investment banks for the purpose. However, the coronavirus outbreak has put many market events, including Yandex.Taxi's IPO plans, on hold.

Currently, Yandex.Taxi, which merged with Uber Technologies in 2017 in a deal that gave Uber a 36.6% stake in the combined company, remains the largest Russian company slated for an IPO.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Sberbank CIB had predicted that the Russian taxi market would grow by 35-40% in 2020, but the forecast was later revised to a much more modest 7%. Still, according to the forecast, Yandex.Taxi would be still able to beat the market with a 12% increase in traffic.

In the January-March period, Yandex' revenues in the taxi segment dropped by 50%, according to the company's IFRS report, while the segment's overall prospects are unclear due to the ongoing restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Still, the company itself remains optimistic and said last month that it hopes to post a profit in 2020. Yandex.Taxi has been losing money for years while it focused on low prices to establish a market share. However, the strategy changed last year, as it is now the dominant service and the company went into profit as prices rose. Those profits are clearly going to be hit by the impact of the stop-shock this year.

In January-March, the taxi business accounted for almost 25% of Yandex' revenue, with adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) returning a profit for the fourth consecutive quarter.

The lockdown takes its toll

Russia's taxi segment has been hit hard by the sharp decline in demand for taxi due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, which was introduced on a national scale in late March, while restrictions are anticipated to stay in place – in one form or another – for a long time.

In April, Yandex.Taxi’s gross merchandise volume (GMV) in Moscow dropped by 60% year on year, and by 70% month on month, Daniil Shuleiko, general director of Yandex.Taxi, said during a conference call in late April.

"We started seeing a slowdown in the second part of March due to fears of the spread of COVID-19," he said. "As a result, if in early March we were seeing almost 5mn rides per day, towards the end of March this number decreased significantly."

If the GMV in the second quarter falls by 60%, Yandex.Taxi will report a negative Ebitda, but a fall of 40% would see a breakeven, the company forecasted.

"I do not have an exact forecast, but we expect some recovery in the third and fourth quarters ... If we compare the second half of 2020 with the first half, we expect that the taxi service will be profitable,” Evgeniy Senderov, Yandex.Taxi’s finance director, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"We are in good shape to get through the current situation, we have strong balance sheet," he went on to say.

Meanwhile, in a bid to ease the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on its business, Yandex.Taxi has been able to negotiate "leasing holidays" for its partner taxi companies, Vedomosti reported.

According to the report, all taxi companies connected to Yandex.Taxi will be able to cut their leasing payments by 50% to 80% for a period of up to three months. Other support measures include delays in leasing payments and cancellation of late payment fees.

Vezet deal scrapped

In late March, Yandex.Taxi put a brake on the acquisition of another taxi company, Vezet.

As profiled by bne IntelliNews in February 2019 before the deals were announced, Vezet is one of Russia’s biggest regional taxi players and would have strengthened Yandex.Taxi’s business to the east of the Ural Mountains.

In late 2019, Yandex planned to snap up Vezet from its rival Mail.ru in a deal that would have included 3.6% equity and $71.5mn in cash. With a market share of about 12%, Vezet was expected to significantly strengthen Yandex.Taxi's position.

It was not clear whether the cancellation of the deal was linked to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and ensuing lockdown measures.

Vezet was established in 2017 in a merger of Fasten Russia, Saturn, Red Taxi, RuTaxi, Lider and Vezet operators. The company operates in over 100 cities in Russia, Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic, processing over 1mn orders a day.

In 2017 the group had 12.3% of the Russian taxi market, which was larger than the 10.4% joint share of Yandex.Taxi and Uber prior to their merger of regional operations.

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