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: After completing richest SPAC deal yet, Grab stock plunges 20% on first day of trading

After completing the richest deal yet for a special-purpose acquisition company, Grab Holdings Ltd. shares experienced an initial pop Thursday, their first day of trading in the U.S., but then slumped to a decline of more than 20%.

Shares of Grab

opened on the Nasdaq at $13.06, up about 19% from Wednesday, when it was trading as the Altimeter Growth Group, the SPAC that took it public. The deal raised $4.5 billion at a valuation of more than $37 billion, according to DealLogic, which reported that the funds raised and valuation were both records for a SPAC.

The strong open gave Grab a market capitalization of about $51.6 billion, but the stock closed more than 20% lower to $8.75.

The Singapore-based company makes a “superapp” offering ride-hailing, delivery and financial services in more than 400 cities in Southeast Asia. Grab’s chief financial officer, Peter Oey, said in an interview with MarketWatch on Thursday that the company had its “roughest patch” in the third quarter ended Sept. 30 because of COVID-19-related shutdowns in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam. But he pointed to continued expected growth and recovery, even as the company watches what happens with the new coronavirus variant, omicron.

“Our mobility business has been rising as lockdowns have been relaxed,” he said. “Our payments business also continues to grow. We’re seeing all strong signs.”

Oey also touted Grab’s breadth and wide reach.

“Our superapp is so unique in Southeast Asia,” he said. “It’s ride-hailing, food delivery, grocery delivery, last-mile delivery and a whole range of financial services products all in one app.” He said the app “touches [consumers] in their everyday lives.”

Backers of Grab, which was founded in 2012, include Didi Global Inc.
Toyota Motor Corp.

and SoftBank Group Corp.’s

Vision Fund.

Grab’s financial picture

Grab, like other ride-hailing and delivery app makers, has lost a lot of money since its founding in 2012: It had accumulated losses of $11.9 billion as of June 2021, according to its prospectus.

The company recently reported a third-quarter net loss of $988 million, an increase of $366 million year over year. Grab said its revenue fell 9% year over year to $157 million, citing COVID-19-related lockdowns in Vietnam between July and September that affected its ride-hailing, or mobility, business. It also said the number of its monthly users was down 8% year over year because those lockdowns resulted in suspensions of both its ride-hailing and food-delivery businesses in Vietnam.

However, the company touted a record $4 billion in gross merchandise value for the quarter, a 32% year-over-year increase, and said year-over-year gross billings rose 41% to $616 million, also a record high.

Risk factors

Besides Vietnam, Grab serves customers in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Oey described a “huge opportunity” with a total addressable market of $180 billion in the company’s core products of ride-hailing, delivery and payments.

The company competes with other platforms as well as restaurants and stores that have their own delivery services. It bought Uber Technologies Inc.’s

business in Southeast Asia in 2018, but its noncompete agreement with Uber expires in March 2023, or one year after Uber disposes of its entire stake in Grab, whichever is later. Another possible rival is Didi, which could enter the market after its noncompete with Grab expires.

Like other gig companies, Grab considers its workers independent contractors. In its prospectus, the company mentions that governments in Southeast Asia have shown “growing interest” in the classification of Grab’s drivers and delivery workers because of related developments elsewhere in the world. According to Malaysian media reports, Malaysia is in the midst of amending employment laws to recognize ride-hailing drivers as workers.

In the U.S. and Europe, governments and courts have battled gig companies over the worker-classification issue.

For more: How Uber and Lyft are trying to pass new labor laws across the U.S.

Oey said there’s a “different backdrop in Southeast Asia” when it comes to the issue, pointing to the region’s many “informal workers.” He said that for nearly 50% of Grab’s 5 million registered drivers, “this is their first ability to earn something and make a decent living.”

“For a lot of them, it’s their first bank account,” he added. “A lot of them, it’s their first access to steady employment.”

As for coronavirus-related risk, vaccination rates in Asia vary and, like what happened with the full shutdown in Vietnam over the summer, could materially affect Grab’s businesses.

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