If there's a restaurant out there that actually serves crow, Citi analyst Mark Mahaney might not mind a plate of it.
Mahaney upgraded shares of web-based reservations specialist OpenTable
Back in June, the analyst took the stock down a peg -- from "buy" to "hold" -- after it hit his $45 price target. What brings Mahaney back to the table now, with the stock closing over the weekend at a price 26% above his late June exit?
According to Mahaney, the story has changed. He sees improving trends, but that's not a recent development. The company posted a healthy 37% spike in quarterly revenue five weeks ago. Despite macro concerns over the state of dining out, OpenTable's top line has been accelerating during the recession. In other words, this isn't a new development.
Mahaney also sees OpenTable as a growing play on smartphone adoption, but that's no "stop the presses" event, either. I've been booking dining reservations through OpenTable's application for Apple's
Mahaney's third salient point is the game-changing potential of OpenTable's Spotlight initiative -- but he's late for that bandwagon, too. Merrill Lynch's Justin Post upgraded the stock last month based largely on Spotlight.
Spotlight is OpenTable's program -- currently being tested in two cities -- where folks can buy discounted vouchers for popular eateries. The model has propelled market leader Groupon toward a 10-figure valuation in venture-capital financing rounds.
Margins in this space can be pretty juicy, but the market's also getting pretty crowded. Everybody seems to be playing the Groupon card. Travelzoo
OpenTable will face challenges -- and not just from Yelp. OpenTable has working relationships with 12,250 North American restaurants and another 1,878 abroad, but won't offering a single city-specific deal for a particular customer alienate its base? If OpenTable becomes a site known for both dining discounts and online reservations, won't it tempt eateries that aren't discounting to seek a rival service? Before Groupon's rise awakened the sector, OpenTable had no inclination to follow in the footsteps of dining loyalty specialist Rewards Network
This doesn't mean that I'm wavering in my bullish conviction. OpenTable has more than doubled since I recommended it to Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter subscribers last summer. It's holding up well against competitive threats and accelerating growth is always a welcome omen. The company has done nothing but blow analyst estimates out of the water with every passing quarter since last year's IPO.
However, when you're eating in a crowded restaurant with reformed bears, it's always nice to know where the exits are -- just in case the kitchen is fresh out of crow.
Have you ever used OpenTable for a restaurant reservation? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.