After several months of disappointing stock price movement, LinkedIn's (NYSE:LNKD.DL) recently announced fiscal Q4 and 2014 annual earnings results were a nearly across-the-board homerun, and shareholders are reaping the benefits. That's certainly good news for investors, and has put LinkedIn back in the spotlight.
Of course, what's happened in the past is nice, but going forward -- particularly at these historically high valuation levels -- the question is what you should expect from LinkedIn now. There are a few key areas LinkedIn management and investors should keep tabs on as we move further into 2015 and beyond, opportunities and obstacles CEO Jeff Weiner and team will need to successfully negotiate if LinkedIn is going to continue its stellar run.
Spend money to make money
To be sure, LinkedIn's balance sheet remains strong. With nearly $3.5 billion in cash, equivalents, and marketable securities, LinkedIn is as cash rich as it's ever been. However, much of that ready cash is the result of issuing slightly more than $1.3 billion in convertible notes last Nov. The reason LinkedIn took on what amounts to a sizable amount of debt considering its size is Weiner and team intend to continue spending.
Last year LinkedIn's overhead increased by nearly 50% to $2.2 billion, and, according to CFO Steve Sordello, investors can expect more of the same. Assimilating new acquisitions like business advertising solutions provider Bizo and hiring additional sales people to jump-start sales of its new asset requires investing. And, as per Sordello, the expected return on that investment will likely be nine months down the road.
More of the same
If LinkedIn's forecasts for 2015's Q1 and the year are any indication, investors should expect another strong performance. For the first quarter, LinkedIn is forecasting revenue between $618 million to $622 million, which would obliterate 2013's Q1 revenues of a "paltry" $473.2 million.
For the year, LinkedIn said revenues will approach the $3 billion mark, well above 2014's $2.2 billion. Again, spending will continue to impact GAAP (including one-time items) earnings-per-share this year, but excluding those, LinkedIn is forecasting per-share results of $2.95, which would be a nearly 50% improvement over 2014's $2.02 non-GAAP earnings.
Spreading the wealth
What differentiates LinkedIn from the likes of Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is its emphasis on professionals and the employers interested in hiring them. Facebook is in the early stages of testing a business-related tool called Facebook At Work, which could eventually begin stepping on LinkedIn's toes. But as it stands, LinkedIn owns the professional networking market via its Talent Solutions division, and it's certainly paying dividends. Last quarter, its talent unit generated an impressive $369 million in revenue, equal to 57% of LinkedIn's total sales. That's the good news.
The even better news for investors is LinkedIn recognizing the value of further diversifying revenues across all three of its business units: Talent, Marketing Solutions, and Premium Subscriptions. Part of the reason LinkedIn acquired Bizo and plans to invest in additional manpower is to support its revenue diversification efforts.
Last year made it abundantly clear LinkedIn is truly a global entity. Just shy of 70% of LinkedIn's 347 million members are outside the U.S. And continued international member growth is expected after the company inked a licensing deal in China last year, opening the doors to a world of opportunity.
However, even with all those global members, 60% of LinkedIn's revenues still come from the U.S. That's not necessarily surprising, but it does offer an outstanding opportunity for LinkedIn to focus on growing non-U.S. revenues, something it intends to accomplish this year and beyond.
Not just jobs anymore
LinkedIn management made a concerted effort during its earnings call to reinforce the success of its efforts to become more than a job search portal for employers and professionals. In 2014, LinkedIn expanded its user content publishing capabilities, and now boasts over 1 million "long-form" posts on its site, with 50,000 added weekly.
Akin to its emphasis on spreading its revenue sources beyond jobs, LinkedIn will continue to gravitate toward becoming an information and destination source for its members, with increased user engagement the ultimate goal. There's a lot on LinkedIn's plate in 2015, not the least of which is meeting heightened investor expectations. Based on its performance and laser-focus on these key growth opportunities, LinkedIn is poised to back up a strong 2014 with yet another banner year.