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《財富》調查:科技行業中哪些公司最燒錢?

Shawn Tully 2019年06月26日

這些公司秉持著“自己終究有一天會掙錢”的信仰,獲得了令人眩暈的估值。

“要想掙錢就得先花錢”,這句話是有史以來得到最廣泛認可的商界格言之一,而硅谷對于這句格言的膜拜程度更是到了無以復加的地步。在那里,特斯拉、Uber、Lyft和Snap秉持著“自己終究有一天會掙錢”的信仰,獲得了令人眩暈的估值。這些公司的支持者們讓我們看到,籌集數十億美元的運營資金是實現這一目標的必經之路。畢竟,像亞馬遜、蘋果、Facebook和谷歌之類的巨頭在盈利之前不也是揮金如土嗎?

《財富》雜志決定對此進行調查:亞馬遜、蘋果、Facebook和谷歌在其發展初期耗費了多少資金?作為對比,當今的那些熱門公司又燒了多少錢?為了獲得這一數字,我們翻閱了每家公司最初發布的財報,并從其首次公開募股的發售聲明中著手。

事實證明,成功科技公司在其成立初期會耗費大量資金的設想不僅僅只是錯了,而是錯的離譜。讓我們來看看硅谷四巨頭亞馬遜、蘋果、Facebook和谷歌(如今母公司是Alphabet)發展初期的數字。你會發現,與現今的新生代(我們又稱之為“燒錢能手”:特斯拉、Uber、Lyft和Snap)相比,它們都是資金節約方面的楷模。

事實在于,在21世紀初的互聯網熱期間,很多科技公司一邊吸收著新資金,一邊報著業績虧損。但真正燒錢的失敗案例是Webvan和eToys.com這類公司,而不是谷歌這樣的贏家。如今,會計專業人士杰克·西斯爾斯基說:“盡管有很多公司吃掉了無數座金山,但投資者的比對對象并不是互聯網時代的那些失敗者,而是幸存者。”

此次分析的關鍵指標并非是凈盈利,而是“自由現金流”,其計算方法是用“運營活動產生的現金”減去資本支出,也就是用企業的收入減去企業用在發展方面的花銷。

差別十分明顯。以谷歌為例。令人吃驚的是,該公司似乎從來沒有出現過高額的負現金流。同樣,作為一家成熟的公司,蘋果從創建之初以來也從未出現過自由現金流為負的情況,而且它僅經歷過短暫的赤字問題。Facebook僅出現過兩年的負自由現金流狀況(2007年和2008年,當時燒掉了1.43億美元)。

說到用今天的虧損換取明日的利潤,亞馬遜可謂是這一方面的典范,但其數字看起來較為奇怪。公司剛成立時(1994-1997)的自由現金流為負1060萬美元,但這僅占總銷售額的很小一部分。其歷史上唯一重大“溺水”事件發生在1999-2001年期間,當時其自有現金流達到了負8.13億美元。但是到了2002年,亞馬遜的自由現金流又變成了正值。綜上所述,硅谷四巨頭在創建初期的負自由現金流總額差不多剛好10億美元。

“You’ve got to spend money to make money” is one of the most widely accepted business adages of all time. And nowhere is that belief more innate than in Silicon Valley, where companies like Tesla, Uber, Lyft, and Snap command dizzying valuations based on the belief that one day, they will indeed make money. Raising fresh billions to fund operations, boosters of these companies would have us believe, is a regular rite of passage. After all, didn’t giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google also burn through tons of cash on their path to profitability?

Fortune decided to find out: How much money did Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google spend in their early years? And how does that compare with what today’s hot names are spending? To get the numbers, we went back to each company’s earliest published financial reports, starting with the offering statements for its IPO.

It turns out the assumption that successful tech companies burned lots of cash in their youth isn’t merely wrong—it’s staggeringly wrong. Look closely at the early days of the giants—the Fab Four, as we’ll call Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (now Alphabet), and you’ll see that they were models of frugality compared with the new wave (which we’ll dub the Breakneck Burners: Tesla, Uber, Lyft, and Snap).

It’s true that in the dotcom frenzy of the early 2000s, many tech companies posted losses while devouring new funding. But the ones that burned piles of cash were such failures as Webvan and eToys.com, not winners like Google. Today, says accounting expert Jack Ciesielski, “you’ve got these companies chewing through mountains of cash, and investors are comparing them not with the failures of the dotcom era but with the survivors.”

For this analysis, the crucial measure isn’t net profit but “free cash flow” (FCF), calculated by taking “cash generated by operating activities” minus capital expenditures (capex). In other words, business income minus money you spent to grow your business.

The differences are stark. Let’s start with Google. Amazingly, the company appears never to have been significantly cash flow negative. Similarly, Apple never showed negative free cash flow starting with its first full year in business and weathered only short-lived deficits as a mature player. Facebook showed just two years of negative FCF (in 2007 and 2008, when it burned $143 million).

At Amazon, long the poster child for taking losses today to earn profits tomorrow, the numbers seem almost quaint. The new venture had negative FCF of $10.6 million from 1994 to 1997, but that was just a fraction of total sales. The only major underwater span in its history came from 1999 to 2001, when negative FCF totaled $813?million. But by 2002, Amazon’s FCF turned positive. All told, the Fab Four had total negative free cash flow in their early years of almost exactly $1 billion.

作為對比,燒錢能手們則已經揮霍了239億美元,也就是共計22年的自由現金流赤字,其支出總額是硅谷四巨頭的20倍。按照這個節奏,他們能否給投資者帶來回報?以下是對各家公司的展望。

特斯拉

已燒金額(負自由現金流總額):12年期間109億美元

展望:2017年負自由現金流總額增至41億美元,但第二年有所減少,達到了(相對)較為溫和的2.22億美元。這一態勢并未持續多久,因為特斯拉開始花重金提升其大眾市場Model 3車型的產能。今年一季度,公司的銷售額出現下滑,自由現金流跌至負9.45億美元,迫使特斯拉以股權和債務融資的形式籌集了24億美元。摩根士丹利的亞當·喬納斯以特斯拉在華銷售放緩為由,將此前對特斯拉股價的“熊市預期”從97美元下調至10美元,讓市場感到震驚。喬納斯警告稱,總體需求的下降將推遲特斯拉能夠通過運營實現自給自足的日期。

喬納斯的目標股價(所有目標價均為從現在開始12個月后的股價):230美元

當前股價:216美元

Uber

已燒金額:3年89億美元(不計最初年份的虧損)

展望:在今年5月公司期待已久的IPO發售聲明中,Uber公布了2016-2018年的自由現金流數字。2016年,Uber來自運營的現金為負29億美元,資本開支為16億美元,也就是45億美元的負自由現金流。自那之后,這一差額一直在收窄,但仍然是個不小的數字,因為公司一直在向客戶提供價格補貼,并投入大量的資金用于推出 Uber Eats送餐服務,此舉讓2018年和2019年一季度的營銷費用分別提升了25%和54%。經紀公司D.A. Davidson的湯姆·懷特向《財富》雜志透露:“Uber最近良好的營收和訂單業績為自己爭取了一些時間,但到今年年底,投資者會開始把2020年看作是希望之年,也就是Uber應該能夠在盈利方面取得一些實質性的進展。”他還說,如果Uber在接下來的幾個季度并沒有做到這一點,投資者將“感到沮喪或失去耐心”。

懷特的目標股價:46美元

當前價格:42.33美元

Lyft

已燒金額:3年零一個季度13.6億美元(不計最初年份的虧損,IPO招股書中并未明確提及)

展望:2016年,Lyft燒掉了4.96億美元的自由現金流。自那之后,這一態勢也只是稍有改善。2018年,缺口略有收窄,降至3.5億美元,然而今年一季度又達到了 1.1億美元。Lyft屬于輕資產公司,但公司依然在一些基礎性項目方面投入了大量的資金,例如司機費用、保險、研發和營銷,以至于運營虧損一直在不斷擴大。Wolfe Research公司的丹·加爾福斯指出,Lyft近60%的業務都來自于人口密集的市區市場,但這些地區的家庭數僅占美國家庭總數的5%。他指出,這些都市區的年增速已經降至24%,只有2018年年初的一半。加爾福斯還表示,高昂的司機成本“幾乎相當于整個營收額”。他對Lyft在大城市之外的廣泛吸引力表示懷疑。

加爾福斯的目標股價:52美元

當前股價:58.32美元

Snap

已燒金額:4年27.2億美元(不計未被列入IPO報備文件的最初年份虧損)

展望:Snap依然背負著沉重的研發開支,后者占到了其總成本的三分之一。今年,公司拓展其照片分享平臺所需的研發資金額預計將躍升至9億多美元。此外,我們不妨對比一下Snap所燒現金與出售自身服務所獲得的資金,這一點很有啟發意義。從2017年伊始到今年第一季度,Snap斬獲了23.3億美元的營收,其中73%都是現金,也就是17.1億美元。Wedbush公司的邁克·帕克特指出,盡管用戶數和營收增長十分喜人,但“通往盈利的道路似乎變長了”。他擔心,在基礎設施和研發方面的巨大開支會至少會讓Snap息稅折舊攤銷前利潤轉正的日子延后至2020年第四季度。

帕克特的目標股價:12.25美元

當前股價:13.62美元(財富中文網)

本文另一版本登載于《財富》雜志2019年7月刊,標題為《最厲害的燒錢能手》。

譯者:馮豐

審校:夏林

By contrast, the Burners have already torn through $23.9 billion, encompassing 22 years of FCF deficits and outspending the Fab Four by around 20 to 1. At this pace, will they ever reward investors? Here’s the outlook for each.

Tesla

Cash burn (total negative FCF): $10.9 billion over 12 years.

Outlook: Negative FCF ballooned to $4.1 billion in 2017 but narrowed the following year to a (comparatively) modest $222?million. The reprieve was short-lived, as Tesla began to spend heavily to ramp up production of its mass-market Model 3. In the first quarter of this year, sales tumbled, and FCF fell to minus $945 million, forcing Tesla to raise $2.4?billion in equity and debt funding. Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas shocked the markets by lowering his previous “bear case” for Tesla’s stock price from $97 to $10, citing dangers of slowing sales in China. Jonas warned that declining overall demand is pushing back the date when Tesla will be able to fund itself from operations.

Jonas’s price target (all targets are for 12?months from now): $230

Current price: $216

Uber

Cash burn: $8.9 billion over three years (not including losses from earliest years).

Outlook: In the offering statement to its long-awaited IPO in May, Uber revealed FCF numbers from 2016 through 2018. In 2016, Uber posted negative cash from operations of $2.9?billion and spent $1.6?billion in ?capex, for a negative FCF of $4.5?billion. Since then, the shortfalls have been shrinking, although they have remained substantial as the company has offered price promotions to customers and spent heavily on the launch of its Uber Eats food-delivery service, raising sales and marketing expenses by 25% in 2018 and 54% in Q1 of 2019. Tom White of brokerage D.A. Davidson tells Fortune, “Uber has bought itself some time with good recent performance on revenue and bookings. But by the end of this year, investors will start thinking of 2020 as hopefully the year where meaningful progress is made toward profitability.” If quarters keep slipping by without concrete progress, he adds, investors “will get discouraged or impatient.”

White’s price target: $46

Current price: $42.33

Lyft

Cash burn: $1.36 billion over three years and one quarter (not including losses from earliest years, which were not specified in the IPO prospectus).

Outlook: In 2016, Lyft burned $496 million in FCF, and since then, the trajectory has improved only slightly. The shortfall shrank a bit to $350 million in 2018, but in Q1 of this year, it stood at $110?million. Lyft is asset-light, but it’s still spending so heavily on such basics as driver pay, insurance, R&D, and marketing that operating losses have continued to mount. Dan Galves of Wolfe Research points out that Lyft depends on dense urban markets for nearly 60% of its business, despite those areas making up only 5% of U.S. households. And annual growth in those metro areas, he reckons, has slowed to 24%, half the rate in early 2018. Galves also cites high driver costs that “are taking almost all the revenue” and doubts that Lyft will win broad appeal outside the big cities.

Galves’s price target: $52

Current price: $58.32

Snap

Cash burn: $2.72 billion over four years (not including losses from earliest years, which were not in IPO filings).

Outlook: Snap is still burdened by big research expenses, equal to one-third of its total costs, and R&D needed to expand its photo-sharing platform is expected to jump to over $900 million this year. Additionally, it’s instructive to look at how much cash Snap is burning in relation to all the money it collects marketing its service. From the start of 2017 through Q1 of this year, Snap had $2.33?billion in revenues and churned through 73% of that amount, $1.71?billion in cash. Michael Pachter of Wedbush notes that although user and revenue growth is impressive, “the road to profitability appears to have gotten longer.” He’s concerned that big spending on ?infrastructure and R&D has pushed back the date when Snap will show positive Ebitda to at least Q4 of 2020.

Pachter’s price target: $12.25

Current price: $13.62

A version of this article appears in the July 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “The Biggest Burners.”

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