MarketWatch First Take: Gig-work stocks are in a bear market, and the cloud is unlikely to lift soon


Gig-work stocks have had a terrible month, and the regulatory clouds that worry investors are not going away anytime soon.

DoorDash Inc.

managed to buck the trend Thursday, surprising investors with gross orders well above analysts’ expectations and more than three times the volume of a year ago. Its shares surged in after-hours trading, at one point climbing nearly 8%, as the company also raised its full-year net volume and its adjusted earnings outlook.

“The negative impact to consumer behavior was smaller than we had initially anticipated, and that enabled us to actually beat our Q1 guidance by 9%,” DoorDash Chief Financial Officer Prabir Adarkar told analysts on Thursday.

DoorDash’s upbeat view, in which it noted that restaurant openings and home delivery can co-exist, was some much-needed optimism in the gig-company arena, which has been under a cloud since late April.

On April 28, Uber Technologies Inc.

was trading around $58.44, Lyft Inc.

was at $63.40, Grubhub Inc.

was at $70.06, and DoorDash Inc.

listed at $162.45. But a day later, the stocks of those high-flying companies were hit with the news that the Biden administration’s new secretary of the Labor Department, Marty Walsh, believes that most gig workers should be classified as employees — which would increase costs for those companies.

Read more: The stocks of gig companies fall after U.S. Labor Secretary speaks

Today, the stocks of those companies are down, on average, 25% from late April, a bear-market turn. Lyft is down 30% and Uber is off 23%. GrubHub has declined 20% and DoorDash has tumbled about 29%.

There’s also the concern that demand for delivery will drop off as people go out to restaurants again, after potentially years’ worth of growth was compressed into one last year during the pandemic.

The downturn was exacerbated by recent earnings reports, where the topic of possible regulation was often dredged up by analysts. Last week, investors also got a glimpse of how much treating workers as employees is going to cost, when Uber said that it had reserved $600 million as a result of a judgment in the United Kingdom to pay claims of back wages due to British drivers in a case, including a minimum wage, holiday pay and potentially pension contributions.

The employee-classification question eventually came up on DoorDash’s call, when an analyst asked the executives for their reaction to Walsh’s comments, which included the news that the labor secretary would be speaking with the gig companies’ top executives.

Don’t miss: Gig work could change under Biden’s Labor secretary. Here’s how

“So we’re very excited about what we heard Secretary Walsh and the Biden administration say, which to our ears was that they’re very excited in figuring out with us, with the private-sector companies, how to actually construct a model that takes us into the 21st century,” DoorDash Chief Executive Tony Xu said, adding that the No. 1 thing the company hears from its workers is that “they want this flexibility that has never existed in any labor environment before.”

Xu then reminded the analysts that the Labor Department has not taken any actions yet, and has indicated its interest in working with all the gig-economy companies.

A lot has yet to happen between these companies and the new administration, but it’s clear that there is going to be more regulation against Big Tech in the next year. The tough stance against Apple Inc.
Facebook Inc.

Google and Amazon

will probably filter down to these companies as well, even the smaller ones like DoorDash.

It’s a big issue that will hang over all of the gig-work companies, no matter their financial performance in the meantime. Now that investors have at least one example of the potential cost to their business models, they are deciding it may not be worth sticking around much longer.

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