For most of the last year, Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN) has been dead money. It's no longer plunging the way it did following its IPO, but over the last 12 months, the stock is down about 2%, badly underperforming the broader S&P 500.
Its most recent earnings report did little to change that. Although Groupon's results exceeded expectations, its guidance -- once again -- proved disappointing.
In the subsequent earnings call, Groupon's management offered up a number of key points for investors to consider. Below are five of the most important quotes from that earnings call.
Korean investment limited Groupon's earnings
On an unadjusted basis, Groupon's business remains unprofitable, which may make it a difficult investment for all but the most speculative portfolios. In the fourth quarter, Groupon posted an operating loss of $60 million.
According to Groupon's CEO Eric Lefkofsky, however, that operating loss is worse than it appears. More than one-fifth of that loss was due to significant investments in Ticket Monster, a rapidly growing subsidy Groupon acquired last year, and one that it is considering spinning off or selling.
[Groupon's] results reflect continued investment in [Ticket Monster] ... an effort to gain market share, we chose to invest more heavily in that market ... As a result, TMON drove the substantial majority of the sequential increase in rest of world segment operating loss contributing $13 million of the overall $60 million fourth quarter loss.
The North American business is growing
Groupon's core North American business -- the online marketplace and mobile application most investors are likely familiar with -- is continuing to see increased engagement, though it may not (yet) be translating into profitability.
During the call, Lefkofsky drew attention to the rapid growth of the business, highlighting several key metrics, including gross billings, which represents the amount of goods and services sold through Groupon's platform.
In North America, gross billings increased at the fastest rate we've seen in over a year, growing 20% ... driven by double-digit increases in ... local, goods and getaways. North America revenue increased 24% to $551 million and segment operating income reached its highest level in over a year, coming in at $31 million ...
Groupon continues to try to build a local platform
For more than a year, Groupon has been attempting to shift its business model, transitioning from a daily deals giant to a sort of local commerce marketplace. Lefkofsky reiterated Groupon's commitment to that vision during the call, pointing out its large (and growing) base of both customers and users.
We set out to build the first real-time local commerce marketplace, connecting nearly 1 million merchants -- who would have done business with us -- to our community [of customers] which has grown pretty dramatically. We now have 260 million subs. 110 million people download our app. 54 million customers, [and] 160 million visitors.
Shifting away from email blasts
Groupon's business was built on email blasts -- each day, Groupon would send an email out to its list of interested buyers, advertising a relevant daily deal in their particular area. But there are limits to that approach, and Groupon has been working to lessen its dependence. Rather than rely on email alone, Groupon is trying to draw new customers in from search engines. During the call, Lefkofsky noted his company's progress.
We also made good progress operationally in ... reducing our reliance on email which used to account for the vast majority of our business ... it is now down to about 20%. Increasing our search business, [it was] 19% a year ago, 26% in the fourth quarter ... when you add in SEO, it now represents about a third of our business which is a sign that our marketplace is really starting to take hold.
The Pages initiative is working
To fuel that search engine initiative, Groupon launched "Pages" last year. Roughly similar to Yelp's individual business profiles, Groupon's Pages serve as information hubs for its merchant partners, allowing customers to leave reviews and request deals. The Pages initiative is less than a year old, but Lefkofsky noted that the company is already making great progress.
We've now released about 800,000 pages to be indexed on Google. That's up from 500,000 a quarter ago. We have about 800,000 people that have now [requested] a deal or [followed] a merchant. That's doubled in the past quarter from 400,000. We've collected nearly an additional 5 million tips and reviews and ratings. We were at 20 million. We're now at nearly 25 million ... we've got millions of visitors coming to these pages ... they are absolutely performing as we would have hoped.