Aswath Damodaran's Zomato 2022 Update: Value, Pricing And The Gap
On July 21, 2021, I valued Zomato just ahead of its initial public offering at about Rs 41 per share. The market clearly had a very different view, as the stock premiered at Rs 74 per share and soared into the stratosphere, peaking at Rs 169 per share in late 2021.
The last few months have been rocky, as the price has been marked down, partly in response to disappointing results from the company, and partly because of macro developments. At close of trading on July 26, 2022, the stock was trading at Rs 41.65 per share, and the mood and momentum that worked in its favor for most of 2021 had turned against the company. In this post, I will begin with a quick review of my 2021 valuation, then move on to the price action in 2021 and 2022 and then update my valuation to reflect the company's current numbers.
My IPO Valuation
I valued Zomato, soon after it filed its prospectus for its initial public offering, in July 2021. The details of that valuation are in this post, but to cut a long story short, I argued that an investment on Zomato was a joint bet on India (that economic growth would bring more discretionary income to its people), on Indian eating habits (that Indians would eat out at restaurants more than they have in the past) and on the company (that its business model and first move advantages would give it a dominant market share of the food delivery market). I summarized my valuation in a picture:
I valued the company at close to Rs 41, and note that this valuation incorporates the proceeds from the IPO and adjusts the share count for the offering. I argued then that notwithstanding the potential growth in the market, and Zomato's advantageous positioning, it was being over priced for its IPO, at Rs 76 per share.
In response to the pushback that I got from those who disagreed with my valuation, with half arguing that I was being way too optimistic about the future and the other half that I was ignoring the potential for growth overseas and in new businesses, I followed up with a second post, where I let readers choose their own story line for Zomato, and came up with a table that linked stories to values:
Using my test of whether a valuation story is possible (the weakest test), plausible (a stronger test) and probable (the acid test), I posited that you could justify a value per share for Zomato of Rs 40-50, per share, with plausible stories, but that valuations that were much higher required pushing the limits of plausible narratives.
The Pricing Game
One reason that I enjoy valuing a company just ahead of its market debut is that there is no market price to bias your analysis; in my experience, the market price operates as magnet, drawing intrinsic valuations towards it. The downside is that without a market price acting as an anchor, your valuations can easily come unmoored from reality. No matter what, having a valuation in hand makes the first day of trading much more interesting, as you wait for the market to pass its own judgment on the stock’s pricing, though that judgment reflects more a pricing game than a value estimate.
Staying with the theme that it is demand and supply, mood and momentum that determine what happens to a company’s stock in first few months of trading, the buzz that accompanied Zomato’s listing and its standing as one of the first new age Indian companies to go public, spilled over into the first day of trading, as the stock soared 51% over its offering price of Rs 76, and rose as high as Rs 137 during the trading day. That opening day glow lasted for the rest of 2021, abetted by easy access to risk capital, and the stock maintained its lofty pricing. If you are tempted to attribute the price performance to good news from the company, its earnings reports continued to report escalating losses and one of its co-founders quit in September 2021.
In 2022, though, the company's stock rediscovered the laws of gravity, and news stories that would have elicited positive responses in 2021 are having the opposite effect. The most recent plunge in the stock price seems to have been precipitated by Zomato’s acquisition of Blinkit, a grocery delivery company, for $570 million (Rs 4,400 crores), on June 24, 2022, and the expiration of the lock-in period, allowing insiders to sell shares in the company. At close of trading on July 26, Zomato’s stock price was at Rs 41.65 per share.
Updating The Fundamentals
Though some have suggested that price dropping to my value is vindication of my valuation, I am not part of that group for three reasons. First, it seems skewed to celebrate only your successes and not your failures, and it behooves me to let you know that I also valued Paytm at close to Rs 2,000 per share, and the stock is currently trading at Rs 713. Second, even if nothing in my valuation has changed, the value per share of Rs 41 per share was as of July 2021, and if it is a fair assessment, the expected intrinsic value per share in July 2022 should be roughly 11.5% higher (i.e., grow at the cost of equity), yielding about Rs 46 in July 2022. Finally, the company and the market have changed in the year since I last valued it, and to make a fair judgment today, the company will have to be revalued.
In the year since my IPO valuation, there have been four quarterly reports from the company, in addition to news stories about governance and the company's legal challenges, and there is a mix of good and bad news in them. On the good news front, the food delivery market in India has continued to grow over the last year, and Zomato has been able to maintain its market share. In fact, there are signs that the market is consolidating with Zomato and Swiggy controlling 90% of the market share of restaurant deliveries. As a consequence, Zomato's gross order value and revenues have both jumped over the course of the last year:
In addition, the substantial cash that Zomato raised on its IPO is providing it with a cash and liquidity cushion, with cash and short term investments jumping from Rs 15,000 in March 2021 to Rs 68,746 (including short term investments) in March 2022. Since Zomato is a young, money-losing company, and the likelihood of failure acts as a drag on value, this will benefit the company, since it provides not only a cushion for the firm but also eliminates dependence on external capital for the next few years.
On the bad news front, the take rate, i.e., the slice of gross order value (GOV) that Zomato keeps has dropped substantially over the last year, reflecting increased competition in the market, higher delivery costs and Zomato's entry into newer markets (like grocery delivery) with lower revenue sharing. In addition, the growth has come in fits and starts, and given Zomato's active acquisition strategy, it is not clear how much of the revenue growth is organic and how much is acquired. Not surprisingly, the company's losses have ballooned over the last year:
While there was a management narrative of economies of scale and improved contribution margins, the end numbers don't back up either contention, with cost of goods sold rising much faster than revenues and operating and net margins both becoming more negative over the last year. (And no, you cannot add back stock-based compensation and come up with an adjusted EBITDA to claim otherwise....) In addition, the Indian government put both Swiggy and Zomato on notice that they may be facing anti-trust action in the future, perhaps opening the door to more competition.
On the still-to-be-decided front, Zomato has continued on a strategy of acquiring small companies to advance its growth agenda, and while many of these acquisitions have been small, its most recent acquisition of Blinkit has raised questions about whether this growth is coming at a reasonable cost. (Again, the contention from management that this is a capital-light company that growth with little investment is not true, since these acquisitions are its true capex, making it a capital intensive firm.) The potential conflicts of interest in this acquisition, with a Zomato co-founder's spouse operating as the CEO of Blinkit, also add to the questions. Even if the Blinkit acquisition pans out, it is an open question whether Zomato can continue to deliver growth effectively and efficiently through this acquisition-driven strategy, using its own shares as currency, especially as it scales up. In addition, Zomato is also building a portfolio of equity positions, which do not show up as part of operating assets, and the founders rationalize this behavior by arguing that these are "the building blocks for a robust quick-commerce business in India, and will accelerate digitisation and growth of the food and restaurant industry which accelerates our core food business " (from the 2022 Q4 shareholder discussion). Even if we accept this argument for minority holdings, it will add to the complexity in the firm and make investors and traders more wary, especially in periods of uncertainty.
The Macro Factors
When I valued Zomato in July 2021, the markets (in India and globally) were in the midst of a boom, with abundant supply of risk capital and optimism about economic growth, pushing up the prices of tech companies, generally, and the youngest, most money-losing tech companies, specifically. Those circumstances no longer hold, with two big developments in global markets, both of which I have talked about in previous posts
Inflation returns: Inflation is back in almost every part of the globe, and has unsettled markets. In this post, from May 2022, I noted that financial assets (stocks, bonds) lose value when inflation is higher than expected, and that a decade of low and stable inflation has left investors exposed and vulnerable. The effects of inflation show up first as higher risk free rates, across currencies, and next in higher risk premiums, with both equity risk premiums and default spreads rising. In a follow-up post a couple of weeks later, I looked inflation's effects on individual companies and argued that less-risky companies with pricing power and high gross margins would be less exposed than riskier, money-losing companies. (I will leave it to you to judge where Zomato falls on this continuum.)
Risk Capital flees: In a post at the start of this month, I looked at how the retreat of risk capital, i.e., capital invested in the riskiest assets (from venture capital invested in start ups to investments in the riskiest collectibles) was playing out in higher equity risk premiums in mature markets, and in a later post a few days later, even bigger increases in equity risk premiums in emerging markets. As a company with the bulk of its business in India, Zomato again is more exposed to these developments.
A higher equity risk premium for India (9.08% in July 2022, compared to 6.85% in July 2021) and a higher riskfree rate in rupees (4.78% in July 2022, compared to 4.25% in July 2021) conspire to push up the cost of capital for Zomato (and other Indian companies) by about 1.5-2% from my IPO valuation.
A Zomato Revaluation
Incorporating the updated financials for Zomato (with the doubling of revenues in conjunction with larger operating losses) and the higher cost of capital, from macro developments, I revalued Zomato on July 26, 2022:
Note that my core story for the company has not changed, but its Blinkit acquisition suggests that Zomato is planning a substantial foray into the grocery delivery business (pushing up the total market size currently and in the future), albeit at the expense of a smaller slice of revenues and a smaller market share. The value per share has dropped from Rs 40.79 to Rs 35.32 per share, with much of the value change from last year is coming from macroeconomic developments, manifested in a higher cost of capital. For this value to be generated, the company will need to stop paying lip service to contribution margins and adjusted EBITDA, and work on reducing growth in its cost of goods sold.
An Action Plan
So, what now? As with my valuation last year, let me emphasize that this is not the valuation of Zomato, but is my valuation and it will inform my decisions on the company. I have a story for Zomato, and valuation inputs that reflect that story, but I could be wrong on both fronts, and as I did last year, I tried to capture these uncertainties in a Monte Carlo simulation:
Allowing for the wide ranges of estimates that you can have on the total market for food (restaurant and grocery) delivery in India in 2032 and the uncertainties about Zomato's share of that market and its operating margins, you get a range of values. The median value of Rs 34.12 is close to the base case value of Rs 35.32, not surprising since the input distributions were centered on my base case input values, and at its current stock price (Rs 41.65 on July 26), the stock is still at the 70th percentile. That said a few more weeks like the last two will push the price below my median value, and if it does, I would buy Zomato, as part of a diversified portfolio (and not as a stand alone investment).
If you are a trader, you are playing a different game entirely, and Zomato's value is not part of that game. You are gauging mood and momentum, which at the moment are extremely negative for the stock, and trying to get ahead of a shift back to the positive. To make that judgment, you will be better served poring over charts, looking at price and volume movements, consulting with an astrologer, or even visiting your favored temple, church or mosque.
I know that some of you did buy Zomato shares in their glory days in 2021 and are either continuing to hold, hoping for a come back, or have sold, and are licking your wounds. I am sorry for your loss, but please don't attribute to conspiracies (where insiders, founders and backers play the role of villains) what can be better explained by greed, and its capacity to cloud judgment. No matter how tempted you are to blame the financial news, journalists, equity research analysts and others for your decision to buy Zomato at its heights, that decision was ultimate yours and the first step in becoming a good investor is taking ownership of your decisions. Put bluntly, if you live by momentum, you die by it. Your consolation prize is that you have lots of company in this market (from Cathie Wood at Ark to the thousands of investors who put their money in Bitcoin, NFTs and other cryptos), and this too shall pass!
Blog Posts on Zomato
The Zomato IPO: A Bet on Big Markets and Platforms! (July 22, 2021)
A DIY (Do-itYourself) Valuation of Zomato! (August 2, 2021)