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Lyft’s Expected Q1 Performance Hints At Improving Margins, Potential Path To Profits

Following Uber’s purposeful release of certain elements of its financial performance, some of Lyft’s recent results were disclosed today in a Bloomberg report

The Lyft metrics deal with the first quarter of this year, while Uber’s figures were more tied to end-of-year performance.

Lyft, according to the report, “expected” the gross amount of rides sold through its platform to reach $800 million in the first quarter. During the period, Lyft expected that it would lose about $130 million. Critically, that pace of loss is down around $20 million from its reported first quarter 2016 result, as noted in the piece.

Bloomberg’s read of Lyft documents reveals that the firm “more than double[d]” its bookings result compared to the year-ago quarter. Bookings are the total value of rides served on a platform. From that number, the company takes a piece. That cut is net revenue.

Summing, Lyft managed to curtail its loss rate while doubling (or so) its gross bookings, and, therefore, its revenue grew. That’s a recipe for future profits, provided that the company valued in the billions of dollars can keep its lines on trend

The Uber Contrast

As you will recall from its own release saga, Uber reported rapidly expanding revenue and only slightly increasing losses. After growing its gross bookings by 28 percent from the third to the fourth quarter of 2016, here’s how the company’s profit metrics came in:

Uber lost 5 percent more in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to the third. The firm lost $991 million in the final period of last year, according to Bloomberg, implying a loss of around $943 million in the third quarter.

Uber’s aggregate loss for 2016 on a heavily adjusted basis came to $2.8 billion. Inclusive of losses stemming from its now-exited effort in the Chinese market pushed that figure closer to $4 billion.

Lyft, by contrast, lost around $600 million last year, according to the Bloomberg report. (Obvious caveat: Uber has around $7 billion in cash-on-hand, while Lyft is worth, in total, just $7.5 billion. Uber is so much larger than Lyft that, given the economics of their shared market, it loses more money.)

It’s difficult to directly compare Lyft and Uber, as their gross bookings results don’t convert to net revenue in precisely the same fashion. And as the percentage of revenue that each firm takes from its gross bookings pool can change over time, what was difficult becomes downright impossible without the sort of in-depth financial figures that private companies would rather die over than share publicly.

But falling losses for Lyft, combined with doubling bookings, is a good look, and for Uber, with a higher revenue base and stiffer losses, nearly flat deficits with quickly-expanded top line is also pleasant.

For both firms—the recently re-capitalized Lyft, and the still-hugely wealthy Uber—it means that they have quarters ahead of them to keep improving their profitability. Both have quite a lot to prove, especially with competition around the world also raising new capital.

New dinner question: Which ride-hailing company, if either, will reach non-GAAP profits first? GAAP?

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