Uber and Lyft’s long wait for a rebound in demand signals slow economic recovery

By Tina Bellon and Akanksha Rana

(Reuters) – With the pandemic still suppressing ridesharing demand, Wall Street is keen to know how soon Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc expect a rebound and how they plan to keep costs under control until then.

Investors are also hoping for more insight on Uber’s successful food delivery operations and Lyft’s efforts to set up a delivery business when the companies report fourth-quarter results this week.

Analysts generally do not expect ride-hail demand to rebound before the second half of 2021, when more people have been vaccinated and offices and businesses have reopened, which suggests a somewhat gloomy outlook for the broader consumer-based economy.

The sluggish recovery also complicates Uber and Lyft’s efforts to become profitable on an adjusted basis by the end of this year.

Lyft, scheduled to report results on Tuesday afternoon, already disclosed that rising COVID-19 infections have resulted in 47% and 50% fewer rides in October and November, respectively.

Analysts expect a similar trend for Uber, which reports results after market close on Wednesday. As a global player, Uber is also impacted by renewed lockdown measures imposed across its European markets.

“Cost-cutting is perhaps the main factor which investors watch these days when they decide to trade ride-hailing stocks,” Investing.com analyst Haris Anwar said in a note.

Bernstein analysts cautioned investors to ignore the short-term volatility in the pace of recovery.

Unlike Lyft, Uber has been able offset its ride-hail losses with a surge in food-delivery orders at its Uber Eats business, where revenue has doubled during the pandemic.

Uber has expanded its footprint in the competitive space and acquired smaller food-delivery rival Postmates and alcoholic beverage delivery service Drizly.

The company has also launched grocery, package and prescription deliveries in some North American cities.

Lyft last quarter announced it was working to offer a delivery service for restaurants without launching a full-fledged consumer-facing platform for food delivery.

Asked about details during a December investor conference, Lyft President John Zimmer said the company was working on a white-label or non-Lyft-branded platform to allow deliveries between different businesses for groceries, food and packages.

Lyft has not provided further details and Zimmer in December said the company was still in the very early stages of the process.

Analysts on average expect Uber to post $3.58 billion in fourth-quarter revenue and a $949 million net loss, according to Refinitiv data.

Lyft is expected to post $562 million in quarterly revenue at a net loss of $226 million, Refinitiv data showed.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Akanksha Rana in Bangalore; Editing by Matthew Lewis)