Short-Term Investors: Groupon Inc. Isn't for You

Investors focused on the near term are driving the stock price of the online-deals giant, and that's a shame.

Apr 5, 2014 at 4:30PM

It's rarely been easy for Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN) or its shareholders since going public about two and a half years ago. Even before Groupon became a publically traded company, the first of what would be several accounting questions and irregularities arose. Analysts lambasted the antics of former Groupon CEO and co-founder Andrew Mason, and were less than enamored with its easily copied business model.

Despite its inauspicious beginnings and the eventual ouster of Mason, Groupon is slowly but surely reinventing itself into a multidimensional e-tailer, while still dominating its original deals market. Groupon CEO Eric Lefkofsky is making a lot more right moves than wrong, including the recent decision to ramp up its marketing efforts for the first time in three years. The reaction? Groupon's stock price closed down nearly 2% yesterday following Lefkofsky's announcement.

Some background
If there were any questions about Mason's tenure at Groupon, they were emphatically answered both by Mason himself after getting the boot as CEO, and investors following the news. Mason's response to being ousted?

I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding -- I was fired today. If you're wondering why ... you haven't been paying attention.

Obviously, Mason was not engaged in the process of turning Groupon's fortunes around.

Investors also made it clear what they thought about Mason's departure in late February of last year. The next day, investors drove Groupon's stock price up nearly 13%, effectively saying, "good riddance." Unfortunately, Lefkofsky and the Groupon team still can't seem to win over analysts or investors, despite successfully implementing much-needed changes.

The man with a plan
When Groupon co-founder Lefkofsky took the permanent CEO position last August, one of his first orders of business was to ramp-up non-coupon revenues. Those analysts that blasted Groupon early on were right about one thing: Groupon's online deals are easily copied, and there were -- and still are -- some serious players. Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) LivingSocial and Google Offers are the biggest, but they're hardly alone.

Thankfully, Lefkofsky was already on board with the notion that Groupon needed to expand beyond deals and develop multiple revenue streams. The biggest, and the most scrutinized of Groupon's growth efforts, is its Goods unit. Once again, short-sighted investors lamented the decision to build out its e-commerce operations, citing concerns about margins.

Groupon's overseas sales got a jump-start when Lefkofsky spent $260 million to acquire Ticket Monster from financially strapped LivingSocial. Groupon also acquired online fashion retailer Ideeli for $43 million, instantly expanding its online retail presence. Long-term, both acquisitions are perfectly suited for Groupon's growth aspirations.

More recently, Groupon announced it was returning to TV with a new ad campaign to support its efforts to become a full-fledged e-commerce site. The result was a nearly 2% drop in share price to close out the week. Why? Because Lefkofsky let the cat out of the bag: When you increase overhead to drive long-term growth, a negative impact on the bottom line will follow.

Lefkofsky isn't the only one who recognizes the need to diversify Groupon's offerings. After a tough 2013, Amazon is still waiting to get some kind of return on its LivingSocial investment. According to CEO Tim O'Shaughnessy, LivingSocial is going to turn its fortunes around by expanding beyond online deals to generate alternative sources of revenue. And the $260 million from Groupon for Ticket Monster? O'Shaughnessy intends to invest the money to grow LivingSocial's online offerings -- a plan that Groupon initiated over two years ago.

Final Foolish thoughts
Groupon is a perfect example of short-term investors who drive the share price for a long-term growth stock. Lefkofsky is spot-on in his efforts to move beyond daily deals, ramp up marketing, and integrate its new acquisitions. These are the steps that build long-term value for shareholders, even though many investors seem intent on focusing on Groupon's next week, instead of next year.

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Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Amazon.com and Google (A and C shares). 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.

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