The company’s fourth-quarter earnings report after the close of trading yesterday fueled today’s frenzy, which occurred on a day when stock markets were largely at a standstill. While the fledgling social media company has yet to turn a profit, and showed flat user growth, overall performance in the quarter exceeded expectations and served for many investors as proof Snap isn’t about to disappear.
The tech startup’s stock price is still well below the teens and low 20s, the level where it traded for more than a year after its IPO in March 2017. Even before today’s rally, however, it had gained more than 20% in 2019 to date after bottoming out last December at just $4.82 a share.
Snap has been destabilized over the past 18 months by a stream of top-level executive departures, a deeply unpopular redesign of its app in late 2017 and ongoing struggles to perfect an Android version of the service. CFO Tim Stone, poached from Amazon, abruptly resigned four months later, officially exiting Tuesday. Interim replacement Lara Sweet was not installed until two weeks after word of Stone’s departure got out, and the delay further clouded the company’s outlook.
During a conference call with analysts Tuesday, CEO Evan Spiegel essentially shrugged off the C-suite turnover and any potential downside for the company’s culture. He said finding a permanent CFO to replace Stone as well as a head of marketing to replace Steve LaBella, who left last fall, are his top priorities. “Most of the changes we made over the past year, year-and-a-half, as we look to sort of forward toward the business scaling, I’m really happy with the way that teams come together and the way they’re working together,” he said.
Major media companies ranging from NBCUniversal to Discovery to ESPN, as well as many traditional print publishers eager to establish a young-skewing digital beachhead, have looked past the stumbles and continued to partner with it on original content. That commitment gives the entire entertainment business a reason to root for Santa Monica-based Snap. Plus, there is the fact that for all of the company’s missteps, it has avoided being hauled before Congress and having to confess to a large-scale data breach or a key role in fomenting misinformation or worse, as have Facebook and Twitter.
Several Wall Street analysts increased their 12-month price targets and other forecasts for the company in light of the quarterly earnings report, even if most retain a show-me stance.
“User trends were materially better than feared,” wrote Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak in a note to clients. Stable user numbers, he added, “are driving near-term appreciation but, in our view, Snap’s ability to successfully roll out its new Android app throughout 2019 (and meaningfully increase its user base) will be key to driving better user growth, higher earnings power and further multiple expansion.”
Guggenheim’s Michael Morris, like many of his peers, saluted positive trends on the advertising front. “We expect secular pressure on ad-supported linear audience levels to drive sustained erosion of traditional industry economics over the long-term,” he wrote in a research note, “and believe that digital advertising companies such as Snapchat will be beneficiaries.”
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