Spotify (NYSE:SPOT) made its market debut in April with a reference price of $132 per share. As of Nov. 30, 2018, Spotify shares trade for just $136, up just 3% from that reference price. If you consider the price at which Spotify ended its first day of public trading, the share price is down nearly 9%.

While the stock price climbed as high as $198.99 in July, shares have fallen sharply along with the overall market downturn over the last couple of months, reaching an all-time low earlier this month. Nonetheless, competing streaming music services like Pandora Media (NYSE:P) have seen considerable stock appreciation in 2018 (even before its announced acquisition) despite intense competition from big tech companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).

Here's why the streaming music leader's stock price has ended 2018 right around where it started in April.

Spotify's Discover Weekly playlist on tablet, mobile, and desktop.

Image source: Spotify.

Meeting expectations

Spotify's quarterly earnings results throughout the year were mostly in line with analyst expectations. It consistently hit the mark on revenue results, although its guidance for the second quarter provided in May helped temper expectations for the July report. User growth also remained relatively consistent, although the mix between premium and ad-supported subscribers wasn't always what analysts had anticipated.

Over its first three earnings reports as a publicly traded company, Spotify delivered pretty close to what analysts were expecting -- solid user and revenue growth with meaningful gross margin expansion.

It should follow that Spotify's stock price is up about as much as the overall market considering it hasn't dramatically over- or underperformed. The S&P 500 index, for reference, is up nearly 7% on the year.

Strengthening competition

Spotify has seen some of its biggest competitors gain substantial strength since the company made its public debut.

Apple surpassed Spotify as the largest premium subscription music service in the United States over the summer. While the United States is Apple's strongest market (due to its relatively high share of the smartphone market), it's also growing quickly internationally. Apple's management says it believes it has more subscribers than Spotify in Japan and Canada.

Apple's growth is a long-term concern for Spotify. One of Spotify's competitive advantages is the scale of its user base, which provides excellent data for developing a better listening experience. Spotify uses data to improve its user interface and develop algorithmically generated playlists. Spotify is also reliant on user-generated playlists for listening, and more users means more playlist options to attract newcomers.

Meanwhile, Pandora has been making several moves to put pressure on Spotify. Not only has Pandora taken steps to improve its premium subscription offerings, it managed to sell itself to Sirius XM (NASDAQ:SIRI) in September in an agreement that will create the largest audio entertainment company in the world.

The size of the combined company's ad-supported listener base will be a major draw to advertisers. Pandora has long established itself as an alternative to traditional radio, so there's strong potential for synergies between Pandora and Sirius XM. It could also put pressure on Spotify's ad-supported listeners, an area in which the streaming leader still lags the competition considerably. If premium subscriber growth slows, Spotify will need to increase monetization of its free listeners; a combined Pandora and Sirius XM could make that more difficult.

While Spotify has largely met analyst expectations through its first three quarters or so as a publicly traded company, the intensifying competition in the space may have reduced the market's expectations. As a result, Spotify shares have come back down to levels comparable with their position before the company's market debut.

Adam Levy owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Pandora Media. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.