MercadoLibre Finishes 2016 Stronger Than Ever

By Dan Caplinger Markets Fool.com

Consumer-oriented companies rely on strong economic conditions in the markets that they serve, and e-commerce marketplace provider MercadoLibre (NASDAQ: MELI) has seen both the advantages and the disadvantages of that interconnection. For a while, MercadoLibre's growth was somewhat more sluggish than usual because of Latin America's economic recession, and coming into Thursday's fourth-quarter financial report, MercadoLibre investors weren't certain whether bottom-line growth would be particularly strong. Yet the e-commerce operator managed to post extremely good results that put many of those fears to rest.

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Let's take a closer look at MercadoLibre to see how it did and what's ahead for the company in 2017.

Image source: MercadoLibre.

MercadoLibre climbs higher

MercadoLibre's fourth-quarter numbers were extremely strong. Net revenue soared more than 40%, to $256.3 million, and that outpaced even the ambitious 38% growth target that investors had set for the e-commerce company. Net income climbed by nearly a third, to $51.3 million, and that produced earnings of $1.16 per share. That compared extremely favorably with the $0.92 per share consensus forecast among those following the stock.

Looking more closely at the numbers, MercadoLibre kept executing well operationally. Items sold jumped 40%, to 51.6 million, and gross merchandise volume was up almost 11% in U.S. dollar terms, to $2.22 billion. The number of registered users at the end of the period came to 174.2 million, up by a fifth from just 12 months ago, and local-currency merchandise volume rose by nearly half.

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MercadoPago, which is the payment service that MercadoLibre offers its users, kept growing. Total payment volume jumped more than 80% in currency-neutral terms, and by more than half in dollar terms, to $2.45 billion.

The number of payment transactions through MercadoPago jumped by two-thirds, to 42.5 million, and the company said that payment volume from mobile point-of-sale solutions in Brazil contributed to the unit's growth. Rising transaction quality has also helped push MercadoPago's popularity higher even outside of the key Brazilian market, and MercadoLibre made the service available in Uruguay during the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, the MercadoEnvios shipping service also saw substantial growth. Items shipped jumped three-quarters, to 25.9 million items, and in Brazil and Mexico, the service accounted for the majority of items sold in those markets.

CFO Pedro Arnt was happy with how MercadoLibre did. "Last year was one of our most significant in terms of the tangible results of the quality work and level of execution that the entire team delivered," Arnt said. The CFO pointed to the control that MercadoLibre has over the user experience that can guide future growth in a way that customers will appreciate.

Can MercadoLibre keep making progress in 2017?

The growth rates that MercadoLibre has consistently posted show few signs of slowing. Indeed, in Brazil, growth rates have actually been on the rise throughout the past several quarters. Currency impacts have taken their toll in certain areas, especially Venezuela, Argentina, and to a less degree, Mexico. However, MercadoLibre appears to be on the upswing as the network effect keeps raising the value of the services that the company provides.

MercadoLibre has also been smart in the way that it has sought to take advantage of the mobile market. The company said that mobile is responsible for more new users to the platform than any other source, accounting for about two-thirds of new users registering on MercadoLibre recently. Continued expansion of the number of brands and retail sellers available to MercadoLibre users has also increased interest in the company, with almost 1,300 additions during 2016.

Overall, investors seemed to be happy with MercadoLibre's results, and the stock climbed almost 2% in after-hours trading following the announcement. Increasingly, investors believe that the recovery in various Latin American economies across the region is signaling a new move higher for the emerging region. If that takes shape in the near future, then MercadoLibre could find itself on the ground floor of another moneymaking opportunity that could last for years to come.

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Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends MercadoLibre. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.