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The Ratings Game: Uber, DoorDash and Lyft could see hundreds of thousands of new gig workers because of recession, analysts say

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Echoing what gig-company executives have been saying lately, Bank of America Securities analysts wrote in a note Tuesday that the companies could see an upside from a recession and higher unemployment this year: hundreds of thousands more gig workers.

“For the ridesharing industry, bookings could see downside with less commute and travel traffic, but a recession should drive better labor supply availability,” the analysts wrote. They don’t expect the U.S. government to provide any more aid to gig workers, like the emergency pandemic unemployment assistance that was extended to ride-hailing drivers during the emergence of COVID-19, which — along with pandemic-related lockdowns — was a drag on supply.

Bank of America economists expect the U.S. unemployment rate to rise from 3.7% to 5.3% this year, which would equal about 19 million unemployed and underemployed people, the analysts wrote. They said there’s a potential of 450,000 new drivers for Uber Technologies Inc.
UBER,
+2.55%

and Lyft Inc.
LYFT,
+0.91%
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and possibly 600,000 new couriers for DoorDash Inc.
DASH,
-0.94%

and Uber Eats. There could be overlap between drivers and couriers because many gig workers do work for more than one app.

“Absolutely all internet companies have exposure to a recession, so investors are looking for silver linings,” Justin Post, one of the Bank of America analysts, said Tuesday in an interview with MarketWatch. He added that the economy means “it’s very competitive for both drivers and customers. If the cost of capital goes up and more drivers become available — that could help offset risks” for the companies.

Because of the expected rise in supply, Post and his colleagues said in their note that Uber, Lyft and DoorDash shouldn’t have to spend as much on worker incentives and therefore should see a boost in take rates. In ride-hailing, if Uber and Lyft reduce incentives by 25% per driver, the analysts expect Uber and DoorDash to see 0.6% and 1.3% increase in take rates, respectively. In delivery, if DoorDash and Uber Eats cut incentives by 15% per courier, the analysts expect DoorDash and Uber Eats’ take-rate gains to be 0.3% and 0.2%, respectively.

The analysts reiterated their buy ratings for Uber and DoorDash stock. They have an underperform rating for Lyft shares.

The top executives of all three companies have said recently that they expect worker supply, which had been improving since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, to continue to get better.

For example, Lyft Chief Executive Lyft Logan Green said on the company’s third-quarter earnings call in November that the company’s new drivers grew at a faster rate. “We expect to see more people looking for these opportunities in a recessionary environment,” he said.

But as more people turn to app-based gig work, it could mean bad news for workers who are already in the gig economy. They will be dealing with inflationary and recessionary pressures, along with increased competition for work, labor experts have said.

Uber shares rose about 2.5% to $25.36 Tuesday, the first trading day of the year. They are down 42% over the past 52 weeks. Lyft stock rose almost 1% to $11.12 and have declined more than 75% in the past year. DoorDash shares fell less than 1% to $48.36 and are down more than 66% in the past 52 weeks.

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