September 30, 2022

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Upstart CEO defends increased loan balance, says the AI lending platform’s model hasn’t changed

In an interview Tuesday with CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Upstart Holdings CEO David Girouard sought to downplay investor concerns about the increased loan balance held on the financial technology firm’s balance sheet at the end of its first quarter.

Shares of the artificial intelligence lending platform plunged 56.42% Tuesday, closing at $33.61 apiece, one day after it also lowered its full-year outlook for revenue and adjusted EBITDA margin. Upstart cited rising interest rates and broader economic uncertainty for the revised forecasts, which came in lighter than Wall Street’s expectations. Upstart’s loan balance also was in focus Tuesday.

“Just to make it really clear, in the first quarter, a single-digit percentage of the loans that were originated on our platform came to our balance sheet,” Girouard said in an interview “Mad Money.” “That hasn’t changed in our history.”

On Monday, Upstart reported that it held $604.4 million worth of loans on its balance sheet, as of March 31, up from $260.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2021. Some analysts noted that increase raises Upstart’s credit risk exposure, and Cramer told Girouard he was “shocked” by the figure.

“We’ve said we use putting loans on our balance sheet to test new products and new models, and that’s largely what those represented,” Girouard said.

Upstart has recently been expanding into the auto loan market, while also working to roll out a small-dollar loan product.

“It’s not a change in our model,” Girouard said, referring to Upstart’s use of its balance sheet to support research and development on new lending products. “More than 90% of our loans are originated and held by banks or originated by banks and sold forward to institutional markets. That hasn’t changed.”

Upstart, which went public in December 2020, soared for much of last year and reached an all-time closing high of $390 per share on Oct. 15. It’s been tough sledding since then, due in part to a broader shift away from high-flying growth companies in response to a more hawkish Federal Reserve. As of Tuesday’s close, Upstart shares are down about 91% from their record closing high.

Multiple Wall Street analysts downgraded Upstart shares on Tuesday. Cramer told Girouard he believes part of Tuesday’s dramatic stock slide because investors realized there was “far more risk” than they previously understood.

“All else being equal, I prefer [if] our stock was going up. But the fundamentals of our business has not changed,” said Girouard, a former Google executive who also founded Upstart. “Profits and growth have been the combination since we public in December 2020 and since before that. We’re proud of what we’re building.”

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