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Lyft Q4 active rider metric misses estimates but co-founder says company is 'like a coiled spring'

Lyft reported a narrower than expected loss in the fourth quarter and and sales that topped expectations, even as ridership remained weak as COVID-19 restrictions and reduced travel crimped the business. Shares extended gains to rise 10% in late trading after the results were released.

With fourth quarter earnings now in the rearview mirror, Lyft co-founder and president John Zimmer is sticking with his view that the ride-sharing giant is on the cusp of seeing its growth re-accelerate this year as a vaccinated public slowly ventures out of their living rooms.

"I really expect to see a growth inflection in the second quarter that strengthens into the second half of the year," Zimmer tells Yahoo Finance. "I think we really set ourselves up to have a great year to be the recovery stock to own as vaccine distribution ramps up."

Zimmer adds, "It's kind of like we're a coiled spring. As soon as people get back into the world I really believe this sets us up in a great way for a big year."

Here’s how Lyft's fourth quarter earnings released Tuesday after the market close stacked up against Wall Street forecasts:

  • Revenue: $569.9 million vs. $561.2 million expected

  • Adjusted EBITDA loss: $150 million vs. $182.7 million expected

  • Active Riders: 12.6 million vs. 13.3 million expected

  • Revenue per Active Rider: $45.40 vs. $41.99

Lyft's earnings offer up two perspectives for investors to consider.

The first is that the recovery in rider demand, to Zimmer's point, will be a second half of the year story driven mostly by the pace of vaccination. Lyft noted in its earnings release sales later in the fourth quarter were hurt by a resurgence of COVID-19. At 12.6 million, Lyft's closely watched active riders metric missed analyst forecasts and fell at a faster year-over-year pace (45.2%) than the third quarter (43.9%).

On the other hand, unlike its larger rival Uber Lyft continues to show it's a strong manager of costs. The company said it slashed $360 million in annualized fixed costs in the fourth quarter, beating its target by 20%.

Thanks to these cost-cutting measures, Lyft doubled down on its expectation of being adjusted EBITDA profitable by the end of this year, despite expected first half challenges in rider demand.

“Given the impact of new efficiencies and our lower cost structure, we’re even more confident that we’ll be able to achieve adjusted EBITDA profitability by Q4,” Chief Financial Officer Brian Roberts said during the company’s earnings call Tuesday evening. “In fact, based on the improvements we’ve made, there is a chance we can achieve profitability in Q3.”

He added, however, that “pulling in profitability would require a strong summer rebound.”

The Lyft logo is seen on ride-hailing car in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar
The Lyft logo is seen on ride-hailing car in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

That could still earn Lyft high marks on Wall Street even if the demand recovery remains choppy.

“We expect demand to rebound over time, and as it does, the groundwork Lyft has put in place during the depths of the pandemic to better position the company for stronger profitability going forward will be a net benefit,” wrote Wedbush analyst Dan Ives in a note ahead of the earnings release.

Shares of Lyft have risen 7.5% over the last 12 months, underperforming against the small-cap Russell 2000’s 21% advance over that time period.

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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