By Emily Bary
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The COVID-19 outbreak could be a blip in the road for ride-hailing companies — or the start of an existential crisis.
When Lyft Inc. /zigman2/quotes/208999293/composite LYFT +2.84% reports results Wednesday afternoon, it will detail a business that’s been virtually ground to a halt since the pandemic forced global lockdowns. There are big questions about how Lyft and rival Uber Technologies Inc. /zigman2/quotes/211348248/composite UBER +3.33% will move forward from here.
Lyft has already taken dramatic steps to stem the bleeding, laying off 17% of its staff and furloughing others and promising to detail more of its financial response with earnings. Business trends at Lyft will give investors some idea of what to expect from rival Uber, which delivers its own numbers the following afternoon and is also reported to be considering layoffs.
While the two businesses are often bunched together, there are crucial differences, and the coronavirus pandemic appears to be exposing them. When Lyft went public, some analysts praised the company for having a more narrow focus on ride-hailing and U.S. markets while Uber branched out into food delivery, freight and many geographies. Now Lyft’s more limited scope could be a relative liability, as Uber gets a cushion from its food-delivery unit and its exposure to areas that are rebounding from the crisis more quickly than the U.S.
For more: It’s time for Uber and Lyft to trade differently, because the coronavirus outbreak is affecting them differently
Lyft executives may be able to answer questions about the company’s short-term strategy, but analysts are increasingly concerned that the pandemic could lead to longer-term behavioral changes.
“Will the gig economy ever look the same?” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives asked in a recent note, and Bernstein’s Mark Shmulik had similar questions.
“As economies re-open, interest should tilt toward private over public transit — but is rideshare the answer or are we looking at a wave of car ownership?” Shmulik asked in a research note that opined ride-hailing might be viewed as a financial luxury amid economic uncertainty, and people might be serious about using the outbreak as an excuse to flee major U.S. cities.
Lyft headlines another crowded day of earnings Wednesday, which includes 45 members of the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.60% . Here are some of the other highlights.
• PayPal Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/208054269/composite PYPL +2.78% and Square Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205989440/composite SQ +3.55% are both on deck in the afternoon, detailing the pandemic’s impact on payments from two different points of view. PayPal’s business consists mostly of online volume, an area of strength in Visa Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/203660239/composite V +0.88% and Mastercard Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/207581792/composite MA +1.09% reports last week. Square’s story is more complicated as the company has heavier exposure to brick-and-mortar small businesses. The company has been helping those merchants shift their business models to include more online sales and curbside pickups. Both PayPal and Square were approved to distribute Paycheck Protection Program loans, and executives can discuss the financial impacts of participation in that program.
• Peloton Interactive Inc. /zigman2/quotes/208035743/composite PTON +10.35% “is seeing an acceleration of longer-term tailwinds as consumers adopt more home-fitness solutions,” JMP Securities analyst Ron Josey wrote late last month. The company is letting more people test out its digital-only offering through free trials, and delivery times for equipment seem “extended,” he said. Look for more information after the closing bell about Peloton’s plans to retain these new users as paying subscribers even after the worst of the crisis subsides and gyms can reopen.
• General Motors Co. /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM -0.38% has suspended its dividend and buyback program but analysts still have questions about the company’s financial future. “While we don’t see a large liquidity risk, we remain worried about automakers’ cash burn, both Ford and GM, as the extended industry shutdown could result in substantial unwind of their working capital, and deep losses from large ongoing fixed costs,” wrote Deutsche Bank’s Emmanuel Rosner. GM’s Wednesday morning report comes after Ford posted a $2 billion loss in its first quarter and told investors to brace for a larger one in the current period.
• Other big morning reports come from CVS Health Corp. /zigman2/quotes/209664499/composite CVS +1.08% and New York Times Co. /zigman2/quotes/202090840/composite NYT +0.19% . The after-hours slate includes earnings from Etsy Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202790087/composite ETSY +4.05% , T-Mobile US Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204659678/composite TMUS +1.33% , Zynga Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209662259/composite ZNGA +1.24% , Sonos Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200589226/composite SONO +0.14% and IAC/InterActiveCorp. /zigman2/quotes/205118493/composite IAC +1.68% .