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How Lyft Is Benefiting From the Coronavirus Outbreak

By Evan Niu, CFA - Mar 4, 2020 at 9:30AM

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The ridesharing player is one of the few travel-related companies that aren't getting hurt by the epidemic.

With the coronavirus continuing to unnerve financial markets as investors fret about potential economic impacts, ridesharing specialist Lyft (LYFT -3.97%) says it has not been hurt by the ongoing epidemic. Speaking at the KeyBanc 2020 Emerging Technology Summit conference this week, CFO Brian Roberts said that demand for Lyft's ridesharing services remains strong amid the ongoing public health crisis.

In fact, Lyft is benefiting from the situation.

Two women in the front seat of a Lyft car

Image source: Lyft.

Not all travel-related companies are hurting

When asked about the coronavirus, Roberts explained that thus far Lyft has not seen any adverse effects related to the outbreak. The finance chief pointed to the company's most recent 10-K (filed last week) that does acknowledge the coronavirus as a risk factor, but that primarily just relates to potential supply-chain disruptions around its scooter- and bike-sharing businesses, as well as parts and components that could be needed for vehicle repairs.

Compared to larger rival Uber, Lyft only operates in North America, which limits its risk exposure as the disease spreads around the world. Roberts said:

For Lyft, our P&L is really driven by ridesharing, and demand in ridesharing remains extremely strong. I think there's a couple things to understand. First of all, it's our operating footprint: We operate in the U.S. and Canada. And these are regions that have been impacted less to date than other regions around the world. I also think these regions have some of the best healthcare systems in the world.

...

We're sort of the domestic player and we're competing against a more international player [Uber]. So when international travelers come in, we under-index in those types of users and so we've had less of an impact.

Roberts is referring to the fact that Lyft has lower brand awareness around the world. If a traveler arrives from another country where Uber operates, that consumer is more likely to take a familiar Uber than a Lyft. As such, any downside related to international travel restrictions being imposed by governments and companies will be disproportionately felt by Uber instead of Lyft.

On top of that, there has been an incremental shift away from public transit in major urban markets toward more private forms of transportation like ridesharing:

I think users and people around the United States are reevaluating their daily routines in light of all the media attention. I will say, anecdotally, talking to a number of friends and colleagues, people are using more Lyft.

...

If you have to get from point A to point B, you begin to second think any sort of situation where you're gonna be crammed into a bus or crammed into a train or subway where you're packed against people and you hear a distant coughing.

To illustrate that point, Roberts disclosed that Lyft enjoyed its "single biggest week in our history" last week for both revenue and rides. The CFO reaffirmed Lyft's guidance for the first quarter, which calls for revenue of $1.055 billion to $1.06 billion and adjusted EBITDA of $140 million to $145 million.

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