Ancestry.com Shakes Up the Family Tree

Editor's Note: Contrary to reporting in a previous version of this article, Wedge Partners doesn’t issue earnings estimates. The Fool regrets the error.

There's always someone who messes up a family reunion.

Yesterday, Wedge Partners issued a cautious research note on Ancestry.com (Nasdaq: ACOM  ) after analyzing the leading premium genealogy site's recently tweaked pricing. The stock took a nearly 7% hit on the news more than 4 million shares in trading volume.

That's quite the stampede, especially on the heels of Ancestry.com shares trading much lower earlier in the day, before a Bank of America analyst stepped in to call the downturn overdone.

In a nutshell, Ancestry.com bumped its monthly rates higher but provided better discounts on longer-term subscriptions.

This is actually a smart move for Ancestry.com, since a lot of new members go in with the intention of quickly scouring through the site's 7 billion records before moving on. They don't immediately realize that genealogy is a long-term pursuit and that even historical records are dynamic when it's a premium site that continues to beef up its content catalog. They don't initially appreciate that what begins as a curiosity-fueled path of self-realization actually has beneficial medical and legal implications.

This doesn't mean that Ancestry.com is simply trying to do its subscribers a favor by encouraging longer stays. The dot-com speedster can also afford to beef up some of its deteriorating metrics.

Ancestry.com grew nicely in its most recent quarter. Revenue climbed 36% and Ancestry.com's nearly 1.7 million subscribers is a 28% improvement over the past year. However, the service's monthly churn rate increased to a problematic 4.6%.

This may not seem like a high number. If fewer than one of every 20 subscribers is cutting you loose in any given month, you're obviously proving yourself as more than just a one-hit membership. Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) is a market darling, and its monthly churn rate rose to a similar 4.2% during the same three months. Other popular subscription services including TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO  ) and Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) have substantially lower churn rates, but those offerings come with costly upfront hardware investments.

However, subscriber acquisition costs continue to climb at Ancestry.com, so it has to milk as much time -- and money -- from new subscribers as the market will bear. The pricing strategy is the right approach.

Ancestry.com is now trading at just 18 times next year's projected earnings, a steep discount to its recent growth rate. The market lull and a poor market reaction to its most recent quarter have created a buying opportunity that's difficult to ignore.

Here's hoping that things go smoother at the next family reunion.  

If you want to see how the genealogy leader holds up against future attacks, add Ancestry.com to My Watchlist.

Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Netflix and Ancestry.com. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying puts in Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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 calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story, except for Netflix. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2011, at 2:12 PM, RyanHunter wrote:

    Mr. Munnariz,

    Our firm does not publish formal earnings projections, as such it is not possible for me to publish a note making downward earnings revisions. The note that I published to our clients yesterday stated specifically that, in my opinion, the price test that Ancestry.com currently is in place will not have a significant impact on their earnings.

    Your colleague, Anders Bylund, made a similar error in his blog post yesterday and was kind enough to correct it as you can see here: http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2011/09/13/ancestrycom...

    I hope that you too will correct this error.

    Sincerely,

    Ryan Hunter

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