Saudi Arabia is not all that fond of competition — the kingdom has long reaped rich reward from its Opec membership.
And recently, it decided that pesky US shale oil drillers should be killed off by driving oil prices lower.
Now, Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund is investing $3.5bn (€3.1bn) in Uber Technologies.
The taxi-hailing app’s strategy will have resonated with Riyadh’s policymakers: Annihilate the competition by slashing prices.
Why else would Uber need all that cash?
Following a succession of gargantuan funding rounds, Uber has more than $11bn in cash and convertible debt. But in theory Uber is an asset-light business. Unlike Tesla, say, it does not need factories.
Uber drivers bring their own vehicles to the party, even if the company helps finance many of them.
However, having lots of money allows Uber to do lots of marketing and, importantly, to subsidise cheap fares and seize market share.
A price war in China is costing Uber more than $1bn a year, the company has conceded.
Of course, Saudi’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal’s investment fund has also plowed at least $100m into Lyft, Uber’s ride-sharing rival. So the kingdom can not be accused of not sharing the love. Still, that’s chump change compared to the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s backing of Uber.
Being a monopoly is the holy grail of Silicon Valley start-ups (tech investor Peter Thiel thinks competition is for losers).
Uber’s $62.5bn valuation, propped up by the Saudi investment, only begins to make sense if you think it will ultimately become one.
The trouble is, much like Saudi’s oil strategy — which has arguably done more long-term harm to Opec than to the prospects of North American shale — Uber’s bid for monopoly status will probably fail.
Uber is already facing fierce competition from Lyft in the US, from MyTaxi in Germany, from Apple-backed Didi Chuxing in China, and from Ola in India.
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