While most stocks delivered great returns in 2019, bluebird bio's (NASDAQ:BLUE) shares fell 11%. And despite a nice upswing to start off the new year, the stock is close to the level it started 2020 after giving up most of its initial gains.

Bluebird reported its fiscal 2019 fourth-quarter and full-year results after the market closed on Tuesday. Here are the highlights from the biotech's Q4 update, why its results really don't matter -- and what does matter.

Test tubes with one tube containing an image of DNA

Image source: Getty Images.

By the numbers 

The company reported revenue in the fourth quarter of $10 million. This reflected a decline from the prior-year period revenue total of $19.2 million and was lower than the consensus Wall Street Q4 revenue estimate of $8.7 million.

Bluebird announced a net loss of $223.3 million, or $4.04 per share, based on generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). This reflected significant deterioration from the GAAP net loss of $149 million, or $2.72 per share, in the prior-year period. The average analysts' estimate was for a Q4 net loss of $3.79 per share.

The biotech ended 2019 with cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments of $1.24 billion. This was a decrease from Bluebird's cash stockpile of $1.89 billion as of Dec. 31, 2018.

Forget the numbers

With the notable exception of Bluebird's cash position, none of the company's Q4 results really matter. Why? They don't reflect where the company is now or where it's headed.

In the fourth quarter and throughout 2019, Bluebird's sole source of revenue was its collaboration and license and royalty revenues. And most of that money came from Celgene, which is now owned by Bristol-Myers Squibb, related to the collaboration on Bluebird's cancer cell therapies ide-cel and bb21217.

But now, Bluebird has its first approved product on the market, although not yet in the U.S. The biotech won European approval for Zynteglo in June 2019 for treating transfusion-dependent beta-thalassemia. Bluebird launched the gene therapy in Germany last month.

Don't look for any significant revenue from Zynteglo (Lentiglobin) in the immediate future, though. Bluebird expects to treat the first patient for which it receives reimbursement sometime over the next four months.

This means that the company's cash stockpile of $1.24 billion truly is the most important (and really the only important) number in its Q4 results. Bluebird should be in a good position to fund operations and advance its pipeline for a long time to come.

Looking ahead

The primary area of interest for investors in the immediate future is Bluebird's commercial launch of Zynteglo in Europe. The company hopes to establish access and reimbursement in other key European markets outside of Germany by the end of this year.

Of course, the lifeblood of any biotech stock is its pipeline. Bluebird should have plenty of pipeline news on the way.

One key milestone will be an expected filing for U.S. approval of Lentiglobin in the second half of 2020. Bristol-Myers Squibb and Bluebird should also file for FDA approval of ide-cel in treating relapsed and refractory multiple myeloma in the first half of the year. In addition, Bluebird anticipates filing for U.S. and European approvals for Lenti-D in treating cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy by the end of this year.

Although there are no guarantees when it comes to regulatory approvals, Bluebird's prospects on all of these fronts appear to be pretty good. It seems likely that the top- and bottom-line results in the company's quarterly updates will matter in the not-too-distant future.

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.