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Food Delivery Giant Meituan’s Sales Beat Estimates

Zheping Huang

(Bloomberg) -- Meituan Dianping’s shares soared after it reported a smaller than expected 13% slide in revenue that drove hopes the world’s largest meal delivery business is starting to recover as China emerges from Covid-19 lockdowns.

Its shares climbed as much as 9.7%, extending strong gains since China began to return to normal in mid-March and propelling Meituan’s market value to more than $100 billion. That surge came after Meituan reported better-than-expected sales of 16.8 billion yuan ($2.4 billion) in the three months ended March. Morgan Stanley and CICC were among the brokerages that lifted their targets on Meituan, citing resilience across business lines and easing competition.

Backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd., Meituan’s sprawling services from food delivery to in-store dining and hotel booking were among the most vulnerable to nationwide shutdowns. But its businesses had begun to climb out of the trough, offsetting severe slumps in areas such as hotels, executives told analysts on a Monday conference call. As of March’s final week, more than 70% of restaurants surveyed had recovered more than half their normal order volumes, while 30% had exceeded pre-pandemic levels, Chief Executive Officer Wang Xing said.

“COVID-19 had a negative impact on Meituan but results beat on top-line and bottom line by a wide margin,” Bernstein analysts led by David Dai wrote. In food delivery, the “long run potential is still there and the profitability level can be much higher” after the company pushes advertising, they added.

Longer term, the internet services giant will have to grapple with China’s worsening economy, which may further dent consumer spending. Subsidies and measures to help restaurants and merchants during the outbreak will again pressure profitability in the June quarter, executives said.

Meituan reported a lower-than-projected net loss of 1.58 billion yuan, but that was after three successive quarters of profit.

“Looking into the next three quarters, we believe there will still be challenges as there are still uncertainties and potential downside from the ongoing evolution of the COVID-19 situation,” Wang said on the call. “Meanwhile, a large number of local service merchants are still struggling for survival. Short-term profitability is not our top priority.”

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says

Meituan’s near-term growth may weaken as its in-store dining, hotel and travel businesses take time to fully recover from China’s coronavirus outbreak. Operating efficiency will likely improve in the longer term as the company expands its market-leading scale and competition with Alibaba moderates. Broadening service categories and providing technology solutions for merchants will aid sales and profit growth.

- Vey-Sern Ling and Tiffany Tam, analysts

Click here for the research.

Before the outbreak, Meituan had pushed aggressively into adjacent arenas from online travel to ride-hailing. While revenue from the business that encompasses hotels and travel plunged 31% plunge during the March quarter, Meituan’s much smaller new initiatives segment -- which includes bike- and car-hailing -- grew sales 4.9%, aided by the launch of a new grocery delivery service. Hotels remained hardest-hit: in the week of May 11, domestic room nights were at about 70% pre-pandemic levels.

While Meituan is expanding offerings to sell things like handsets and farm produce, rivals including Ant Group and SF Express, both backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., are elbowing their way into Meituan’s core takeout business. Alibaba’s food-delivery arm Ele.me is also engaging in a subsidy battle with the startup for market leadership.

(Updates with target increases by brokerages in second paragraph)

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