Why Analysts Are Calling Out Groupon as ‘Dead Money’ for Now

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Groupon Inc. (NASDAQ: GRPN) remains one of the Web 2.0 companies that had great promise but that remains in somewhat of a state of limbo. The daily deals and online coupons site wants to be much more than daily deals and online coupons. Unfortunately, it’s been a long journey with starts and stops, and many analysts are now treating Groupon like it’s just going to be dead money.

When Groupon reported earnings this week, it posted $0.07 in earnings per share (EPS) and $873.2 million in revenue. Thomson Reuters had its consensus estimates at $0.09 EPS and revenue of $852.81 million. That may be mixed, but a year-over-year comparison showed that the fourth quarter of last year had EPS of $0.07 and $934.88 million in revenue.

Also driving down the trend was that gross billings totaled $1.58 billion in the fourth quarter. That was down 2% (or 4% on a currency-neutral basis) from $1.61 billion. Groupon still claimed to have added 200,000 net new North American active customers and another 200,000 net new active internal customers.

Shares of Groupon were down about 11% at $4.62 when we covered this stock Wednesday, and its shares were basically at $4.61 (down 2% on the day) on Thursday after the analyst reports were seen. Groupon’s pre-analyst change consensus price target was $5.47, and it has a 52-week trading range of $2.90 to $5.99.

Credit Suisse has a Neutral rating, but it lowered the price target to $4.90 from $5.15. The firm sees Groupon’s results as mixed, but the 2018 outlook is under expectations. Also noted is a disappointing local billings in North America, and a shift in the mix of its business is having a negative impact on billings growth and a near-term negative impact on gross profit and EBITDA. Credit Suisse still sees Groupon as having a long-term tailwind given that it has a potential to transform the value proposition for users and merchants, but it still sees its operating metrics as likely to remain volatile over the coming quarters. The firm simply views Groupon shares as fairly valued.

Merrill Lynch has an Underperform rating on Groupon and the firm lowered its price target to $4.00 from an already sub-current target of $4.10. The Merrill Lynch investment case noted:

Groupon is an investment in several positive Internet industry growth trends including the migration of local commerce to online channels and growth in usage of mobile devices and apps. However, we anticipate investor sentiment to remain negative until Groupon demonstrates its marketing investments are driving higher growth and customer engagement trends, or until the Street has visibility on improved EBITDA margins.

JPMorgan still has a Neutral rating, and the firm lowered its price target to $5.00 from $6.00.

Morgan Stanley has an Underweight rating, and the firm cut its target from $4.50 to $4.30.

Wedbush Securities has a Neutral rating and lowered its price target to $4.75 from $5.00.

Goldman Sachs did manage to upgrade Groupon’s rating back in January, but only to a still-cautious Neutral rating from the dreaded Sell.

Even if you consider that the markets have recovered handily since last week’s panic selling lows (also aided by inefficiencies in the market from volatility — the tail wagging the dog), it is important to understand that in this bull market there are many companies accomplishing extraordinary things and driving extraordinary profit and revenue growth.

A simple mantra to keep in mind is this: Why should any investor pay up to eat crow when there is an endless supply of free meat and potatoes?