SAN FRANCISCO — SoftBank formally started its process for buying a significant stake in Uber with an offer to purchase some shares at a valuation of $48 billion, far below the nearly $70 billion valuation that the ride-hailing company garnered in its last round of fund-raising, according to two people briefed on the matter, who asked to remain anonymous because the process is confidential.
The price is an opening bid in what is known as a tender offer, in which a company makes a public offer to purchase stock from existing shareholders. The tender offer will take weeks to complete, and the price for Uber is likely to fluctuate until the process is complete.
Yet any discount will be a comedown for Uber, which is the most highly valued private company in the world. The ride-hailing service has been making plans to go public by 2019, and investors are intensely interested in whether Uber can maintain a high valuation before it stages an initial public offering.
The tender offer could not have come at a worse time for Uber, which has been rocked by a series of scandals and a leadership change this year. Last week, Uber also disclosed that it had covered up a security breach that had compromised the personal data of 57 million rider and driver accounts.
That revelation has angered regulators and lawmakers around the world. At least three lawsuits related to the data breach have been filed against Uber. On Monday, Uber faced a joint suit filed by Illinois and Chicago over the data breach. Lawmakers have also sent letters to Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, questioning the company about the hacking. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, has publicly said the Federal Trade Commission should investigate and fine Uber for its behavior.
The risks to Uber’s business posed by its reputation could weigh on the price that any buyer would be willing to pay. SoftBank and its leader, Masayoshi Son, have made clear that the investment firm is willing to play hardball, and it has hinted that it will put money into Uber’s rival Lyft if it does not get an offer that it likes from Uber.
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