It seems Yelp Inc. (NYSE:YELP) gets no respect from Wall Street these days. In a fitting follow-up to last quarter's solid results, shares of the online local business-review specialist dropped more than 10% in Thursday's after-hours trading after it beat expectations, yet again.
Specifically, Yelp announced fourth-quarter 2014 revenue climbed 56% year over year, to $109.9 million, which helped adjusted net income more than double, to $18.9 million, or $0.24 per share. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization also rose almost 150% over the same year-ago period, to $25.1 million. Analysts, on average, were only looking for sales of $108.4 million to translate to earnings of $0.07 per share.
Yelp also saw cumulative reviews grow 35% over the same year-ago period, to 71 million. Meanwhile, active local business accounts grew 39%, to approximately 93,700, and local advertising accounts rose 48%, to 84,000.
Yelp expects first-quarter revenue to increase 51% year over year to a range of $114 million to $116 million, with adjusted EBITDA of $19 million to $21 million. That's roughly in line with analysts' models for earnings of $0.03 per share on sales of $115 million.
Finally, Yelp sees full-year 2015 revenue of $538 million to $543 million, representing growth of 43% over last year, with adjusted EBITDA of $100 million to $103 million. Analysts weren't as optimistic going into today's report, forecasting 2015 revenue at the low-end of that range with earnings of $0.40 per share.
Here's what happened
To understand the stock's drop, look no further than slowing growth of Yelp's user base. Specifically, growth in average monthly unique visitors decelerated to "just" 13% year over year, to roughly 135 million, helped primarily by a 37% boost in monthly mobile unique users to 72 million. In addition, keeping in mind monthly unique visitors last quarter came in at 139 million -- which represented growth of 19% year over year -- this marks the very first time Yelp's total unique visitor base has fallen on a quarterly sequential basis.
This shouldn't be entirely surprising. Yelp investors have long worried about slowing growth in its core U.S. market, and Yelp's international business has been hindered during the past few quarters by the negative effects of search engine optimization algorithm changes from Google. And despite launching in five new countries to expand its global footprint to 29 countries in 2014, Yelp's international revenue in Q4 was still only $3.3 million, or 3% of total sales. Management elaborated in the subsequent conference call that international communities contributed roughly 2 million reviews in 2014.
Hard at work on international
It's not as though Yelp is sitting on its hands and letting this huge overseas growth opportunity languish. During the quarter, Yelp acquired review sites Restaurant-Kritik and Cityvox to broaden its reach in Europe. In addition, management reminded during the call that Yelp's international business is still young, and it takes time (measured in years) and patience to build both rapport with overseas consumers, and an adequate base of traffic before it can seriously consider monetizing those new locales.
Until that happens, Yelp will be at the mercy of slowing growth in the United States and, consequently, the fickle short-sighted nature of our stock market. But in the end, assuming Yelp does capitalize on the market for online reviews overseas, pullbacks like this could represent encouraging opportunities for patient, long-term investors.