Adds analyst comment, quote
SAO PAULO, Feb 23 (Reuters) - South American e-commerce giant MercadoLibre Inc MELI.O reported a fourth-quarter net profit of $164.7 million on Thursday, recovering from a loss a year earlier and beating forecasts on the back of strong growth from its fintech unit.
The fourth quarter marked an earnings record for MercadoLibre's e-commerce and fintech businesses despite uncertainty over consumption, interest rates and inflation, the Argentina-based company, also called MELI, said in a statement.
MELI executives said they expect e-commerce growth in major markets Brazil and Mexico to land somewhere in the "mid- to high-teens" this year, speaking on a call with analysts.
In the year-ago period, MELI lost more than $46 million.
The company, which operates in 18 countries across Latin America, posted net revenue of $3.0 billion for the October-to-December period, slightly above a Refinitiv estimate of $2.9 billion.
The result surprised some analysts.
"It underscores MELI's ability to grow market share while considerably expanding margins," Citi analysts said in a research note.
MELI's fintech unit, in particular, showed significant revenue growth, up nearly 74% in U.S. dollar terms, to reach $1.3 billion, helped by the consolidation of financial services across Latin America.
Total Payment Volume (TPV) via Mercado Pago grew by more than 45% in dollar terms (80% in constant currency) to $36.0 billion.
Meanwhile, the company's loan portfolio jumped 65% from a year earlier to $2.8 billion during the quarter.
Net revenue from commerce hit $1.7 billion, or up 22% in U.S. dollar terms during the three-month period.
The company added that gross merchandise volume (GMV) - a key metric in the e-commerce industry - rose nearly 21% in U.S. dollars to $9.6 billion.
"We strengthened our leadership position in e-commerce, gaining market share throughout the operation, especially in Brazil and Mexico," said Chief Financial Officer Pedro Arnt.
By the end of last year, MercadoLibre claimed 96.6 million unique active users, an 18% rise on a year earlier.
(Reporting by Andre Romani; Writing by Carolina Pulice; Editing by Isabel Woodford and Sonali Paul)
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