Grab sees slower growth while it pursues turning profitable in 2024

Grab Holdings chief executive officer Anthony Tan says Grab is firing on all cylinders to improve its profitability trajectory. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Grab Holdings expects sharply slower revenue growth next year as the South-east Asian Internet giant adjusts to a market downturn and speeds up efforts to reverse years of losses.

The ride-sharing and delivery provider gave the forecast for a 45 per cent to 55 per cent increase at its first investor day, trying to reassure shareholders that it is on the rebound. Analysts were projecting 49 per cent growth for 2023 on average.

The company also said it anticipates breaking even in the second half of 2024 on a conditional basis, and excluding one-time items.

“Looking ahead, we’re firing on all cylinders to improve our profitability trajectory,” chief executive officer Anthony Tan said at the company’s event in Singapore on Tuesday. “Grab is trying to achieve this by growing our top line in a sustainable manner.”

Grab, long considered one of the rising stars of South-east Asia, has struggled since it went public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (Spac) in December 2021. Shares have tumbled more than 70 per cent as the company racked up losses in the post-Covid-19 era and the stock market soured on unprofitable tech ventures.

The company, which went public by merging with Altimeter Capital Management’s Spac in what was originally a US$40 billion (S$57.4 billion) deal, is now worth about US$10.8 billion.

Grab, which counts Japan’s SoftBank Group and Uber Technologies as its two biggest shareholders, expects losses to narrow to US$380 million on an adjusted basis in the second half of 2022.

Executives said it now aims to break even by the latter half of 2024 on an adjusted earnings basis before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda). That excludes as many as a dozen exceptional items, from fair value losses in investments to “restructuring costs”.

“It’s the right strategy, although the market is less patient now,” said DBS analyst Sachin Mittal, who rates Grab a "hold". He had estimated revenue growth of 77 per cent for 2023 and adjusted Ebitda breakeven in 2025.

In the meantime, the company said it has about US$6 billion of cash and liquid items on hand, giving it time to turn its on-demand and fintech services around.

Mr Tan’s vision of creating a so-called super app for South-east Asia was aggressive, but led to extensive losses. Grab lost US$3.4 billion in 2021 and has piled up almost US$1 billion of losses in the first two quarters of this year. Revenue this year is set to roughly double to as much as US$1.3 billion, Grab said last month.

The company started out focused on the ride-hailing business and competed effectively against Uber. The US company ended up selling Grab its business in South-east Asia in return for a stake in its Singapore rival. Grab then launched an ambitious - and expensive - campaign to expand into adjacent businesses, including food delivery and finance. It also added everything from hotel bookings and health services to gifts and entertainment experiences to its app.

Chief operating officer Alex Hungate said Grab will now have a more defined strategy, outlining an effort to make the company "South-east Asia's largest and most efficient on-demand platform that enables local commerce and mobility".

"This is not just a bunch of words on a page," he said. "This defines our strategy in a more focused way than we've ever defined before."

Grab also plans to expand its monthly subscription programme, where users pay a flat fee for deals across mobility, food and parcel delivery services on its app. It will also focus on corporate customers, groceries and advertising and fintech services to boost profitability.

The company is counting on turning around its loss-making delivery and financial services businesses to hit its profit target. It had previously forecast its deliveries division would get into the black by the second quarter of next year, when it should have margins of at least 3 per cent.

Grab expects its digital bank operation, run with Singtel, to break even only by 2026. BLOOMBERG

Correction note: The story has been edited for clarity.

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