Zynga Plays Words With Fiends

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Alec Baldwin may love Zynga's Words With Friends so much that he's willing to be booted from AMR's American Airlines flight, but some analysts are out to play their B-E-A-R-I-S-H tiles over a triple-word-score bonus.

Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia and Morningstar's Rick Summer have gone public with pessimistic notes ahead of the social-gaming giant's IPO on Friday, moves that may eat into potential opening-day pops.

Summer began by planting the cautionary flag last week, tagging fair value of the stock at a mere $6 a share. This is a problematic price point for a new offering that's looking to price itself between $8.50 and $10, and wouldn't surprise anyone if it's able to ultimately hit the market closer to $12.

Summer's concern is that Zynga hasn't been able to duplicate its Facebook success on the more congested app marketplaces of smartphones and tablets, where Zynga can't work its viral mojo. He's fully aware of the buzz that may send the stock higher on Friday, but feels that the stock's lofty valuation and questionable growth outside of Facebook will eventually weigh on the shares.

Bhatia's making a more official wager, initiating coverage with an underperform rating and slapping it with a $7 price target before we even know exactly where Zynga will price on Thursday night.

Bhatia is concerned about the fading popularity of some of its marquee titles, and weak retention rates at some of its more recent games including Mafia Wars 2 and CastleVille.

Zynga itself hasn't publicly posted any disheartening metrics. Its latest filings show a growing company with 227 million active monthly players across its various social titles. From virtual poker and bingo to tending virtual harvests in FarmVille, Zynga has been able to take advantage of Facebook as it makes it easy to share game achievements and invite friends to play.

Sure, it was crazy when the market was discussing a $20 billion price tag for the social-gaming darling earlier this year, a market cap that would be more than even that of market leader Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq: ATVI  ) . Even now, Zynga's proposed valuation will probably make it more valuable than Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS  ) , which in itself has taken some healthy strides in casual and social gaming.

The IPO market is heating up with several new issues this week. Corporate social-networking platform provider Jive Software (Nasdaq: JIVE  ) popped higher during yesterday's debut, and unlike Jive, Zynga is actually profitable. Zynga rang up a profit of $90.6 million on $597.5 million in revenue last year, and revenue continues to move sharply higher so far in 2011.

It's definitely going to be an interesting tug-of-war for Zynga if it is able to pull off its IPO come Friday morning. Bears are already tugging on the rope, but the more optimistic underwriters and individual investors will likely outnumber -- and outmuscle -- the worrywarts.

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The Motley Fool owns shares of and has written calls on Activision Blizzard. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Activision Blizzard. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a synthetic long position in Activision Blizzard. 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. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (1)

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  • Report this Comment On December 14, 2011, at 10:40 AM, DJDynamicNC wrote:

    Zynga more valuable than EA or Activision? I suppose there is a bit more perceived growth potential for a social game company over the desktop and console gaming titles that EA and Activision tend to offer, but if the money really does move to social, there's nothing stopping those two from making their own move into the space (and in fact, EA has already taken steps in that direction).

    This article is spot-on for calling that to attention.

  • Report this Comment On December 14, 2011, at 11:49 AM, ClimbinFool wrote:

    2010 revenues were $597.5M, but I see they have a $465M deferred revenue liability. Is that cause for concern when talking about their profitability?

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