What to Watch When LinkedIn Corp. Reports Earnings Next Week

LinkedIn headquarters. Image source: LinkedIn.

LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD  ) reports fourth-quarter results on Thursday, Feb. 6, after market close. What should investors look for? Here is a roundup of some important metrics to watch, along with some relevant benchmarks.

Analyst expectations
The stakes are high for LinkedIn on Thursday. For five quarters in a row the company has beat analyst expectations. Even more, in the past 12 months the stock has soared more than 70%.

For LinkedIn's fourth quarter, analysts are expecting $0.39 in earnings per share on revenue of $437.9 million. Those results would mean an 11.4% and 44% year-over-year gain for EPS and revenue, respectively.

In LinkedIn's third quarter of 2013, year-over-year revenue growth was 56%, down from Q2's growth of 59%. So expected deceleration in sequential revenue growth rates in Q4 makes sense. But the steepness of the deceleration expected by analysts may be more severe than unspoken expectations. With that in mind, investors should hope for both EPS and revenue to handily beat analyst estimates for this growth stock to withstand any sell-off.

Two key metrics
Beyond revenue and EPS, investors will be watching two more key metrics very closely: members and engagement.

Members. In LinkedIn's third quarter of 2013, the company had 259 million members. That's an 8.8% sequential gain over Q2. Amidst continued international expansion, LinkedIn investors should hope for another sequential gain of 8% or more. That would put LinkedIn's total members at 279.7 million members or more.

Engagement. While LinkedIn provides unique visitor and page view data from comScore in its selected financial data, the metric doesn't include data from mobile. And obviously for a company with such a large dependence on its mobile app, mobile results are a fundamental driver for the business. Though the company doesn't provide engagement data including mobile in its key metrics report like it does the comScore data, it does mention the data during its quarterly earnings call. In the call, management refers to this metric as its "internal engagement metrics." These internal metrics offer an excellent picture of the overall trajectory of the engagement of LinkedIn's members since they include mobile data.

In LinkedIn's third quarter, engagement accelerated for the second quarter in a row. The internal metrics showed unique visiting members growing approximately 49% year over year and member page views growing 72% in the same period.

Investors should expect LinkedIn to post similar or better internal engagement metrics for Q4.

Should investors take action?
LinkedIn has one of the most sustainable network effects among all the publicly traded social networks. For this reason, investors who own the stock would be wise not to sell in the case the stock rises after it reports earnings.

For interested investors, any big sell-off could be a great opportunity to take a position in this fast-growing online network of professionals. Of course investors should consider the results in relation to expectations the key metric benchmarks outlined above before they make any decisions.

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