The coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on Portland-based payment technology firm Wex Inc. in 2020, slashing its revenue and cutting into its profitability for the year.

Wex released its 2020 earnings statement Wednesday, reporting revenue of $1.56 billion for the year, a drop of 10 percent from 2019. It also reported a 2020 net loss of $243.6 million, or $5.56 per share, including one-time charges and credits. Excluding one-time adjustments, the company generated net income of $268.3 million in 2020, down 34 percent from the previous year.

“This year proved to be a year like no other as the world faced a number of challenges,” Wex President and CEO Melissa Smith said in a statement. “Nevertheless, Wex remained resilient as we continued to advance our strategic objectives. The fourth quarter played out better than expected, and we began to see some encouraging trends as customer demand slowly returned despite renewed lockdowns across many parts of the world.”

In an interview, Smith said the company has done a good job of bringing on new customers and retaining existing ones, particularly in its fleet services business, while also working on developing its technology. But the existing customers have cut back on travel and spending, she said, and that hurts Wex’s revenue because the company handles payments and takes a percentage of the transactions on items such as fuel.

Wex’s recovery will, to a large extent, follow the rebound in travel, Smith said.

“We actually feel good about all of those things,” she said. “The question is how long it (the recovery) will take.”

And the answer to that question, she told analysts and investors Wednesday, depends in large part on how quickly people get vaccinated against the virus.

“Given the current pace of vaccine distribution, as well as our own customer mix, we believe customer activity will increase in the second half of the year, but likely more fully in the fourth quarter,” she said.

Smith said the company is seeing “incremental” increases in spending, but doesn’t expect a more robust recovery until late in the year. She said one area that has seen a sharp drop has been business trips by salespeople, who stopped hitting the road for in-person meetings last year and are still avoiding travel. That segment likely won’t recover until the final quarter of 2021, Smith said, when vaccines have been distributed to a much larger share of the population.

The company also helps companies administer health care programs for their employees, and that business has shown robust growth throughout the year, Smith said, adding that Wex’s corporate payment programs have also done well in the pandemic.

“There are areas where we continue to see stability and growth,” she said, and those operations are providing a base.

She also said Wex is being cautious in new hiring after laying off about 45 workers in Maine and furloughing another 90 last spring as the coronavirus pandemic spread.

Wex has about 5,000 employees worldwide.

For the fourth quarter, Wex reported revenue of $399 million, down 9 percent from the fourth quarter of 2019. The company reported a net loss of $234.2 million for the quarter, or $5.30 per share, including one-time adjustments, compared with net income of $54.4 million, or $1.24 per share, a year earlier.

“While fourth quarter and full year results continued to be impacted by the pandemic, we were encouraged by continued sequential improvement across much of the business,” said Wex Chief Financial Officer Roberto Simon in a statement. “As in prior quarters, we successfully executed against our strategic pillars, drove efficiencies, invested in high-growth areas, maintained high retention rates, and signed new business across all segments. We are proud of the resilience Wex demonstrated in 2020, and believe we are well positioned to capture future growth as the economy continues to improve.”

Wex shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol WEX. The company’s stock price has fully rebounded from an early-pandemic slump and has since surpassed its pre-pandemic high of about $218 per share.

The company’s stock closed Wednesday at $230 a share, up 8 cents a share for the day. It initially opened down about $10 a share after the company reported the fourth quarter results, but it rebounded during the day to close above Tuesday’s closing price of $229.92.


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