Social-networking job recruiter, LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD ) is getting crushed today after disappointing investors with their third-quarter results. While investors are busy hitting the sell button, could this be a great opportunity to pick up a great long-term investment with a clear monetization strategy?
What spooked investors
What shouldn't have spooked investors was LinkedIn's third-quarter financials. LinkedIn reported a year-over-year growth in revenue of 56% and beat analyst expectations of $385 million by reporting $393 million this quarter. In addition, LinkedIn outpaced analyst expectations by reporting non-GAAP EPS of $0.39 versus $0.32 consensus. Simply put, LinkedIn beat both top-line and bottom-line expectations.
In addition, it appears the core recruiting and premium segments are doing really well—both growing over 60% to contribute to the healthy 56% revenue growth. So it doesn't appear to be a particular division's weakness—the other division, marketing, reported "only" a 38% increase year over year.
So, what has investors spooked? In short: weak guidance. LinkedIn expects fourth-quarter revenue to come in between $415 million and $420 million versus expectations of $438 million. So LinkedIn seems to be projecting about $18 million lower than expectations.
A classic tale of growth stocks
This happens with growth companies. In anticipation of continued growth, investors bid companies up to high valuations. Then fears of growth deceleration set in and investors sell off accordingly. This is what's happening with LinkedIn. Before today, LinkedIn's price-to-sales ratio was nearly 23.5 times; for Facebook, that number is around 20 times sales.
Deceleration that really isn't
The worst part about this sell off is this is only deceleration, not revenue drops. If you look at the numbers, annualizing the upper-end of LinkedIn's guidance still provides 30% annual growth. Obviously it isn't the 56% year-over-year growth, but that's impressive regardless of the investment.
Also investors should understand that LinkedIn's prudent management tends to be conservative with guidance. LinkedIn raised guidance for the reported third quarter on Aug. 2 by guiding from $367 million to $373 million—it beat their projected top end by $20 million.
Management has a strategy to become "mobile friendly" to better engage and monetize its mobile user base. It is possible those benefits will turn up in later quarters and keep LinkedIn's 50% annualized growth rate intact.
The bottom line
Don't let Wall Street's myopia lead you astray. LinkedIn is still a must have for professionals and will continue to lead and innovate in this space. As far as social-media companies go, they have the best monetization strategy; they are working hard to monetize their mobile users; and they are growing revenues and registered members.
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