For much of its history, MercadoLibre, Inc. (NASDAQ:MELI), the leader in the Latin American e-commerce market, has performed admirably. It has dealt with the devaluation of the currency in Venezuela, hyperinflation in Argentina, and economic and political headwinds in Brazil. Add to that the fact that the company does all of its business in the currencies of those various countries while reporting in U.S. dollars, and it seemed as if the deck was stacked against the company. Yet it just kept chugging along, executing operationally and waiting for the headwinds to die down.

When the company reported its financial results on Thursday, investors expected it to continue as it had. Over the past several quarters, the stability in the dollar and the improving economic and political climate in the region had gradually seen those headwinds abate. These improving conditions provided a springboard for MercadoLibre's already positive operational results and propelled its financial results to new heights. The stock jumped 16% on the news.

Hands in front of a laptop, one using the computer and another holding a credit card.

E-commerce in Latin America is heating up. Image source: Getty Images.

Financial results follow operational excellence

Operationally, the company continued its blistering performance. The three operational metrics that strip out the currency effect are registered users, items sold, and payment transactions. MercadoLibre's confirmed registered users reached 182 million, growth of 20% year over year, which it has achieved on average every quarter for the past five years. Items sold increased by 39% to 53.2 million over the previous year's quarter, which has accelerated by 40% on average over the past five quarters. Payment transactions grew 60% year over year to 44.1 million, which represents the ninth consecutive quarter of growth of over 60%.

Graph showing user growth.

Users grow 20% year-over-year. Data source: MercadoLibre. Chart by author.

Financially, results have improved markedly. Revenue increased 79% on a foreign exchange-neutral basis and 74% in U.S. dollars over the prior year quarter to $274 million. Net income grew 60% to $48.5 million, driven by gross merchandise volume, which increased 61% year over year in constant currency to $2.33 billion, and by total payment volume, which grew by 81% year over year on a foreign exchange-neutral basis to $2.6 billion.

Chart showing growth in items sold.

Items sold grew 39% year-over-year. Data source: MercadoLibre. Chart by author.

Years of investment coming to fruition

So what is driving all this phenomenal growth? Several things. The stability of the dollar is no longer acting as a headwind, which was masking the results because of currency translation. The overall improvement of the economy in Latin America also contributed.

Operationally, however, there are several significant contributors to the company's recent success. Early in its history, the company was referred to as the eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) of Latin America. Over time, however, MercadoLibre moved from an auction and person-to-person model, added merchants to its platform, and began its own fulfillment, similar to a structure, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) uses. The company also made significant investments to its platform, making it more customer friendly.

Chart showing growth in payment transactions.

Payment transactions grew 60% year-over-year. Data source: MercadoLibre. Chart by author.

Payments exhibits explosive growth

The company also began offering its MercadoPago payment service, which was modeled after PayPal Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ:PYPL), as an off-platform option. Latin America lags behind the U.S. in credit card adoption and usage, so this service has been experiencing explosive growth. While previously only offered to MercadoLibre customers, MercadoPago is now becoming the preferred payment method for a variety of off-site vendors and includes a mobile wallet app that customers are using for utility and bill-payment services. "MercadoPago's strong results this quarter demonstrate that we are well on track to consolidate our payments business as a regional leader in open digital payment platforms," CFO Pedro Arnt stated. 

The number of sellers increased 14% year over year, and the number of items purchased grew by 15% per user over the prior-year period. MercadoLibre has also been testing free shipping in a number of markets and building out its logistics capability. These moves also contributed to the company's growth.

Investor takeaway

By providing a wide assortment of tools to both customers and vendors, the company is increasingly benefiting from the network effect and a virtuous cycle: More customers encourages more vendors, and the increase in products brings more customers. The widespread adoption of its payment option by customers and vendors, both on and off its platform, continues to provide a competitive advantage. Consider this quote from Arnt during the company's earnings conference call:

"These figures I have just walked you through ... starkly contrast with physical retail sales in those countries, which are growing less than 5%. Figures like these are the ones that not only give us confidence that there is still significant room to continue gaining share from online retail as well as off-line retail, but also that secular tailwinds continue to trump macroeconomic headwinds for our business."

Arnt also stated that 2016 was the best year in its history, and 2017 seems to be following that trend. By focusing on improving both the customer and vendor experience, MercadoLibre has set the stage, and it looks as if the best is yet to come.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.