LeapFrog Enterprises (LF.DL) reports quarterly results after the market closes on Wednesday. Investors in the maker of electronic learning toys would normally be excited about LeapFrog's performance during the holiday quarter, but things aren't shaping up to be as rosy this time around.
Analysts see revenue falling 12% for the quarter, and their profit target of $0.14 a share is well shy of the $0.60 a share it rang up last year.
The market's braced for a bad showing. LeapFrog shocked the market in November by warning that sales for the quarter would fall by 9% to 17%. The pessimism has lingered, and the stock hit a 52-week low last week. The shares have surrendered more than 40% of their value since peaking two summers ago, when the market was still buzzing about its learning tablet that was the toast of the 2011 holiday shopping period.
The arrival of the LeapPad was huge that season. By mid-November, it was the top toy on layaway lists at the country's largest retailer, and its scarcity found desperate parents willing to pay twice as much through online marketplaces. LeapFrog followed with the improved LeapPad 2 the following year, and it generated even better reviews than the original heading into the 2012 holiday blitz.
Last year, LeapFrog decided to aim higher with LeapPad Ultra, offering more of a traditional tablet experience than the limited functionality of the cheaper LeapPad devices. It didn't pan out. Reviews were mixed. Analysts complained about its shortcomings. More important, the market became flooded with cheap kid-friendly tablets put out by some of consumer tech's biggest names.
Amazon.com (AMZN -1.44%), Samsung, and, to a lesser extent, Apple (AAPL -0.34%) have improved the value proposition of their entry-level tablets. Amazon's Kindle Fire continues to get cheaper, and in December it beefed up the offerings of its Kindle FreeTime service for young users.
Samsung also made things interesting in October when it gave its popular Galaxy tablet a rugged exterior and a restricted app store with parental controls in introducing Galaxy Tab 3 Kids. Apple's always been toiling away at the high end, but it made things interesting by lowering the price of its original iPad mini to $299 when the latest fleet of iPads hit the market late last year.
LeapFrog has a lot of other products that cost a lot less yet feed into its proprietary ecosystem of learning cartridges and apps. But LeapFrog has already conceded that Wednesday's report will be unimpressive. The real stock driver here will be the edutainment pioneer's guidance. The stock hasn't been this low in 23 months, so it won't take much to move the shares higher. A glimmer of hope can go a long way. However, if the onslaught of cheap tablets -- or kids moving away from toys in general -- finds LeapFrog singing another gloomy tune, there's nothing stopping the stock from hitting another 52-week low on Thursday.