Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN) has had a rough year -- shares are down nearly 40% in 2014, badly under-performing the broader S&P 500. Shares would be down even more if it wasn't for its most recent earnings report: Late last month, Groupon reported a strong quarter that exceeded analysts' expectations, and shares have rallied more than 20% since.
But the stock could be poised for even more upside. Below are three scenarios that, should they come to pass, are likely to benefit Groupon shareholders. Of course, it's important to note that there's no guarantee the stock will rise -- a broader market sell-off could always send the stock lower, even if the business is improving. Regardless, Groupon investors are likely to welcome the following scenarios.
Its local commerce platform takes shape
One of Groupon's greatest problems is that, frankly, it's difficult for investors to get a sense of what the company actually is. Once, it was commonly characterized as a "daily deals giant" -- today, that's hardly the case. To be clear, Groupon still depends on its coupon deals for the bulk of its revenue, but now, most of them are offered for weeks or even months -- sold on Groupon's app, filtered by location or interest, rather than pitched daily through an email blast.
Management has said it is working to shift Groupon to a business centered around local commerce, creating a local deals marketplace or platform in the process.
It's a work in progress, but Groupon is making strides. Its app is downloaded more and more every quarter, and the company has begun to roll out several new initiatives. Pages, for example, is a sort of social platform for local businesses offering Groupon deals.
A local commerce platform is a far more interesting concept than a daily coupon service -- a business that has, as Groupon's competitors have fallen by the wayside, largely proven to be a fad. Further improvements are needed, but if the concept can be more concretely fleshed out in the quarters ahead, investors could warm up to the stock.
Ticket Monster receives a generous valuation
When Groupon reported earnings, it announced that it was exploring strategic alternatives for its Asian assets, in particular, Korean-based Ticket Monster. It was an interesting announcement, given that Groupon had only purchased Ticket Monster one year prior, but could ultimately benefit shareholders.
Under Groupon's ownership, Ticket Monster has experienced rapid growth, outpacing Groupon's core business. That growth, combined with a recent Wall Street interest in Asian e-commerce, could result in Ticket Monster receiving a favorable valuation.
Groupon doesn't expect to sell all of Ticket Monster, but a partial spin off could give investors a sense of Ticket Monster's value. At that point, Groupon's retained ownership stake would be seen as valuable asset.
It earns a profit
Last, and perhaps most significant, Groupon would benefit from achieving profitability. On a GAAP basis, the company remains unprofitable, highlighting the still speculative nature of its business. Throughout its history, Groupon has been highly controversial, with many critics taking aim at the company's accounting practices.
When I talked to venture capitalist Peter Thiel last month, he cited Groupon as an example of a company investors failed to properly assess. Although Groupon had rapid growth (at one point it was the world's fastest-growing company) it proved unsustainable -- shares are down more than 70% since it began trading in late 2011.
It may be a long time before Groupon shares trade above $20 again, but consistent profitability would severly weaken the long-standing arguments of Groupon bears. Fortunately for Groupon shareholders, any one of the above scenarios playing out would be a big win for bulls.