Yelp Shares Halted: Buyer Search Suspended

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Shares of Yelp Inc. (NYSE: YELP) were halted for about five minutes at the end of the noon hour on Thursday pending news. The news, unfortunately, was not what investors wanted to hear: the company has suspended its quest for a buyer.

The news is based on reports from people with knowledge of the matter, according to Bloomberg, who asked not be identified because the information is private. Make that, was private.

Yelp’s user growth has slowed, and even though the information and review provider carried a market cap north of $3 billion before this news broke, investors have been cautious since early May, when the company hired Goldman Sachs to help it find a buyer after Yelp said it had received some takeover interest.

At the end of its most recent quarter, Yelp had 142 million monthly active users, but a veritable fraction of those are buying anything on the site. The company’s CEO said in April that the company has completed about 1.5 million transactions since the Yelp Platform was created in 2013. That is pretty weak considering the number of users.

Turning those users into spenders is what advertisers want, and if Yelp could figure out how to make that happen, the company could charge more for its own advertising, as well as get a piece of the sales action. The difficulty is that Yelp’s ads are already believed to be too expensive by many local businesses, and local advertising accounted for 83% of Yelp’s first-quarter revenues. But that total has gone down for four straight quarters, partly as local restaurants have not spent more and partly because large chains don’t like the negative comments customers leave.

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Yelp’s stock dropped about 13% Thursday to trade at around $37.00, after closing at $42.44 on Wednesday. The stock’s 52-week range is $36.10 to $86.88, with that low set Thursday. The consensus price target is $53.69, and the high target is $79.00.