Why Key Analyst Sees Yelp Buyout Hopes Dimming

Yelp Inc. (NYSE: YELP) has been considered a takeover target for a couple of weeks now. While there was initial optimism, 24/7 Wall St. went over the many details that might just make Yelp too expensive to be acquired any time soon.

On Monday came word from Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster that Yelp’s buyout optimism has perhaps faded. Munster downgraded Yelp to Neutral from Overweight based on the fear of no deal surfacing. What really stood out though was that the price target was slashed to $46 from $70 in this downgrade.

In another twist, Munster still seems to see close to a 65% chance that a deal gets done. Facebook and Priceline were named as the most likely acquirers, with a new deal now being less likely from the likes of, Apple, Google, GrubHub, TripAdvisor and Yahoo.

What also stands out in this at-the-money price target of $46 is that is that the valuation here is still over 300 times expected 2015 earnings per share and almost 100 times expected 2016 earnings per share. Yelp’s value is also currently $3.4 billion, and that is without taking into consideration any would-be mandatory buyout premium that shareholders would be expecting.

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How many companies can spend $4 billion or $5 billion and justify the price tag being 100-to 300 times forward earnings. Yelp has been in operation for long enough that it is expected to be profitable. It just runs at very low profitability, and the last earnings report was enough of a disaster that shares fell from $51 to under $40 — before news surfaced that Yelp might be looking to sell itself.

While Yelp shares went back to almost $50 on deal hopes, it may not be a mistake to point out that shares are now closer to $46 again. The consensus price target is $54.73, and Yelp’s 52-week trading range is $37.91 to $86.88.

It seems that Yelp will have a hard time getting a major premium buyout due to that valuation conundrum. And it may be the case that it could be years in the future when it does not have such a crazy earnings valuation that a buyer might risk taking Yelp over.

Sterne Agee CRT was able to get to a $55 to $70 upside price target in a Yelp buyout. Still, this remains a very high valuation.

Investors have not really argued about whether the Yelp reviews site for restaurants, businesses and destinations is a good company. The valuation that the market is still valuing it at, even after having been cut in half, is another issue — another issue entirely.

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