June 4, 2019 / 11:05 AM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 4-Uber says IRS probing its 2013-14 tax returns

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June 4 (Reuters) - The U.S. Internal Revenue Service is auditing Uber Technologies Inc's taxes for 2013 and 2014 and the ride-hailing company expects unrecognized tax benefits to be reduced within the next year by at least $141 million.

In its full quarterly report here on Tuesday, Uber said various state and foreign tax authorities were also looking into its taxes and that it was currently unable to put a definite timeline or estimate on the overall adjustments that might result.

The $141 million amount related only to its transfer pricing positions, which refers to the common multinational practice of charging for services between wholly-owned businesses in different countries or jurisdictions to reduce the tax it pays.

Earlier this year, the company had said in a regulatory filing bit.ly/2V003RK that it expected unrecognized tax benefits related to the audit to be reduced within the next year by at least $127 million.

Industry experts characterize transfer pricing as a relatively risky strategy, which typically is among multinationals' top tax concerns and has been used by authorities in the past to go after Apple Inc and Amazon.

"Although the timing of the resolution and/or closure of the audits is highly uncertain, it is reasonably possible that the balance of gross unrecognized tax benefits could significantly change in the next 12 months," the company said.

The announcement came on a day when at least 11 of the brokerages, whose underwriting arms backed Uber's Wall Street debut last month, weighed in with "buy" recommendations on the company's shares as a statutory embargo lifted. Citi, however, initiated coverage with a "neutral" rating.

Uber shares gained 2.8% in afternoon trading as the technology sector bounced back from a sell-off on Monday.

The company's stock has struggled since its market debut on May 10 and is trading below its IPO price of $45.

Still, the shares have outperformed rival Lyft, which have fallen by a third in value since its own debut in March, and analysts from Deutsche Bank said Uber's stock remained the best internet IPO for investors since Facebook's launch in 2012.

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"Uber should trade at a premium to LYFT given Uber's larger global scale and reach, cross product growth opportunity and larger ability for long-term leverage," said analysts at Morgan Stanley.

"It is still in the early innings in its core and emerging opportunities."

In its first quarterly report as a public company last week, Uber reported a $1 billion loss as it spent heavily to build up its food delivery and freight businesses.

But many of the analysts covering the stock on Tuesday said they believed Uber had the scale and time to develop into another powerful U.S. global tech player.

RBC analysts believe the market under-appreciates Uber's profit potential while analysts at Mizuho Securities expect the intense competition to rationalize over the next few years due to continued consolidation and listings of private peers.

"...Uber has ample room to gain operating leverage from economies of scale," analysts at Mizuho said.

Reporting by Vibhuti Sharma, Tanvi Mehta, Karina Dsouza and Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham, Bernard Orr and Shailesh Kuber

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