What Value Investors Need to Consider About Groupon Before and After Earnings

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The week of February 13 to 17 has another busy earnings calendar, but some investors are wondering how they should really be evaluating Groupon, Inc. (NASDAQ: GRPN). With a market cap of $2 billion, many small-cap and low stock price investors are wondering if they should be considering Groupon as a value stock or not.

The reality is that some analysts have cited value and turnaround propositions, but there are many issues which could just as easily suck value investors into a value trap.

24/7 Wall St. recently issued 11 Serious Pitfalls for Value Investors as a guide for some of the classic themes that can really hurt value investors. While a value review of Groupon is merited, trying to jump in ahead of earnings of this sort is probably too risky for most investors.

Without trying to predict Groupon’s earnings, there are just too many issues that might point for value investors to be patient here rather than aggressive. What may matter here is that many of the troubled Web 2.0 companies like Yelp and Twitter have been left for dead.

Groupon had some $850 million in cash and long-term investments as of September 30, 2016. The company’s total asset base of $1.97 billion would be a more conservative level of about $1.5 billion after removing goodwill and intangible assets. The company’s total liabilities were $1.326 billion, of which $1.2 billion was short-term liabilities. Again, its market cap is $2 billion.

Just because a stock is was off of its highs, that might not make it a value stock. At $3.57, its 52-week range is $2.92 to $5.94. Groupon shares were destroyed after the last earnings report reaction. Also worth considering is whether or not the Alibaba stake will make a difference long-term.

Groupon has been a money-lower for years. Its net income from continuing operations was -$89 million in 2015, -$18 million in 2014, and -$89 million from 2013. Thomson Reuters has estimates of $0.00 in earnings per share (EPS) for Fiscal Year 2016. The consensus estimates are $0.08 EPS in 2017 and $0.16 EPS in 2018.

This has happened even while revenue grew from $2.57 billion in 2013 to $3.11 in 2015. Some of that growth was from acquisitions, and now Groupon seems to be shrinking some of its past expansion plans. The problem here is that Thomson Reuters sees the consensus analyst estimates as $3.12 billion in 2016, $3.21 billion in 2017, and $3.36 billion in 2018.

24/7 Wall St. decided to review two of the more recent bullish research reports on Groupon. These reports discuss value and turnarounds here. They also highlight many risks even if the valuations are acceptable.

Wedbush’s Aaron Turner and Amir Chaudhri maintained an Outperform rating ahead of Groupon’s earnings, but they recently lowered their official price target down to $4.50 from $6.50 for the stock. Their pre-earnings report said:

We believe Groupon represents an undervalued turnaround story in the e-commerce space. We expect steady progress on growth initiatives will likely result in robust earnings growth, as restructuring is lapped and larger cohorts continue to stack. However we believe meaningful recovery may not materialize in the near-term and are cautious heading into the fourth quarter print… due to decelerating site traffic trends, material reduction in available Goods inventory, and elevated use of order discounts.

Wedbush also expects Q4 revenue of $913.6 million (down from $937 million) versus a consensus of $914.2 million. They see adjusted EBITDA of $59.7 million (down from $62.5 million) versus a consensus of $60.8 million.

Back in January, Piper Jaffray also issued a positive report on Groupon. The firm’s Samuel Kemp reiterated an Overweight rating with a $6.50 price target. This was after its shares had slid 34% since the third quarter earnings report. Their view was that the sell-off was driven largely by concerns over Groupon’s customer acquisition model being sustainable, as well its mix of goods as the company further narrowed its restructured country footprint. At that time, Kemp said the controversies were overblown and that the core story is intact:

We would be owners of Groupon ahead of the company’s fourth quarter print and 2017 guide. We believe a guide for EBITDA above approximately $200M in 2017 would yield a positive share reaction.

There is another way to consider how investors might feel about risk versus value. Groupon’s short interest was last seen at 49.95 million shares as of the January 31 settlement date. That short interest was 46.4 million shares as of January 13, 43.3 million as of December 30, 41.8 million shares short as of December 15 and 38.4 million as of November 30. A rising short interest would imply that more shareholders are betting against the company or expecting negative news than in prior periods. That being said, Groupon’s most recent short interest of 49.9 million shares is still far less than the 60 million and 70 million shares short at the peak of 2016 even if it is among the most shorted stocks of them all.

There is a consensus analyst price target from Thomson Reuters of $4.74 as of February 13. That would imply upside of 32% above the current $3.58 share price. The lowest analyst price target is just $3.00, and it has already been shown that Groupon shares are closer to the 52-week low than to the high. One consideration here is that the $4.74 consensus analyst target is down from $5.00 just a month earlier, and it was up at $5.13 in November and December.

It’s very easy to consider low-priced stocks with small market caps a value stock. Unfortunately, there are also many risks that suck investors into the notorious value traps as well.

Speculators may decide to jump in ahead of Groupon earnings. True value investors might want to continue to exercise some patience here to see if Groupon’s upside story looks like it has more reward than risk in the years ahead here.