This IPO May Be Too Hot for You

It's not just Groupon gushing through the IPO pipeline these days. Distant rival LivingSocial is also ready to go public, too.

CNBC reported on Friday that the popular coupon-dealing website has chosen the three underwriters that will lead its offering. LivingSocial may hit the market as soon as this fall.

There's no denying that daily-deal websites are hot. Unfortunately, the valuations are even hotter. The reports claim that LivingSocial will look to raise as much as $1 billion in its Wall Street debut, valuing the company between $10 billion and $15 billion. That seems to be a pretty lofty price tag for a company that's a distant second to Groupon.

The pedigree papers are legit, though. Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) has been an early investor in LivingSocial, and several execs from AOL's (NYSE: AOL  ) glory days are onboard.

Deal-site aggregator Yipit Data reports that LivingSocial has grown its market share to 24% of this booming industry, but that's still half of Groupon's thicker 48% slice. If LivingSocial is really worth as much as $15 billion, does that make Groupon at least a $30 billion company?

I don't see it. The market doesn't reward silver medalists with market premiums.

We'll soon get a glimpse into LivingSocial's financials, and they'd better not be as disheartening as Groupon's prospectus was. Despite impressive top-line growth, Groupon posted a loss of $456.3 million last year.

It's also not as lucrative a model as we all assumed until we began digging into the numbers. It was widely assumed that Groupon was keeping half of the revenue generated from its prepaid vouchers. Well, it isn't always an even split. Groupon kept just 39% of the revenue generated from its daily deals last year. To compete, LivingSocial may have to be even more generous with its advertisers.

Another shocking Groupon nugget was that just 15.8 million of the site's 83.1 million registrants have actually purchased a deal. LivingSocial's metrics better show better engagement.

It's easy to see why Groupon and LivingSocial are rushing to hit the market this year. Elbow room is getting harder to come by.

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) , Facebook, and AOL have all rolled out similar initiatives. Niche-specific leaders are also diving in. OpenTable (Nasdaq: OPEN  ) and Yelp are now selling discounted restaurant vouchers. Travel-deals publisher Travelzoo (Nasdaq: TZOO  ) is selling more vouchers per deal than Groupon or LivingSocial are, according to Yipit. Obviously, Groupon and LivingSocial are making it up in volume, but the next few years of growth will be more challenging than the first couple of years were.   

Naturally, we'll want to wait until the company files to go public before passing final judgment. Maybe the financials will be better than Groupon's shocking numbers were. Perhaps the valuation will come in at a more reasonable price.

However, the more likely scenario is that LivingSocial is trying to push through its deal to cash in on the feeding frenzy that's taking place for Web 2.0 darlings. LivingSocial fits the bill, but you probably don't want to be the one left paying that bill.

Will you be a buyer of Groupon or LivingSocial after either one goes public? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of OpenTable, Google, and Amazon.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz routinely checks the deal sites. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story.  He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On July 12, 2011, at 1:10 AM, joe951 wrote:

    Based on what i've seen as a professional online marketer, I feel that Livingsocial is doing a much better job at monetizing its traffic than groupon.

    However, it seems that groupon is better at marketing its self than Livingsocial.

    So I think Livingsocial will either be profitable, or have a smaller percentage loss than groupon. This may all be because groupon pumps more money back into marketing though. It is entirely possible that when either of these companies turn off or scale down their marketing that they will be huge cash cows, which is something most people dont concider.

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