May hasn't been kind to LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD.DL), or its shareholders. After announcing decent earnings on April 30, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and CFO Steve Sordello were inundated with questions surrounding a fairly dramatic change in guidance for the balance of 2015, and its stock has since nosedived.
Leading up to Q1's earnings announcement, LinkedIn was flying high with a stock price around $252. Now? LinkedIn is desperately trying to break the $200 a share barrier, and having a difficult time doing so. All the news surrounding LinkedIn is sure to cause some uncertainly among investors, which often leads to inaction: which is the ideal time for patient investors to act.
First, the bad news
LinkedIn's financial results for Q1 certainly didn't warrant the huge sell-off its experienced since. However, its dramatically lower guidance in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), and non-GAAP (excluding one-time items) earnings-per-share (EPS), clearly took investors and industry pundits by surprise.
Following its Q4 and year-end earnings announcement, LinkedIn provided guidance for 2015 of slightly over $2.9 billion in revenue, EBITDA of approximately $785 million and non-GAAP EPS of $2.95 a share. Each of which would have been significant improvements over last year. Alas, fast-forward to April 30 and its revised forecast, and suddenly LinkedIn's 2015 doesn't look quite so rosy.
While revenue is still expected to be in the $2.9 billion range, EBITDA has been revised (severely) downward and is now projected to come in at $630 million, and EPS should be around $1.90 a share in 2015, instead of the $2.95 originally forecast. The culprit is higher-than-expected costs associated with ramped-up hiring, assimilating acquisitions like Bizo and the recent $1.5 billion deal for Lynda.com, along with customer acquisition expenses that appeared to have taken LinkedIn by surprise.
Is all that "bad" news worthy of a sell-off? You bet, but over 25%? Maybe, but the real question is where does LinkedIn go from here, because that's what will determine whether its stock offers long-term growth potential, or should be avoided like the plague. Long-term investors would be wise to consider the former, for several reasons.
Now, for the good news
There are several positives that were somewhat lost in LinkedIn's gloomy EPS and EBITDA guidance. For example, the $2.9 billion in revenues expected in 2015 is a more than 30% improvement over the prior year's $2.2 billion. Also, despite its niche market catering to professionals and job seekers, LinkedIn continues to grow its membership base at an impressive clip.
Last quarter, LinkedIn added 17 million new members, pushing its total to 364 million. By contrast, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) – which plays in a much bigger potential user market than LinkedIn – added just 14 million monthly average users (MAUs), bringing its total to 302 million. And with over 50,000 posts each week, LinkedIn's users are actively engaged – and becoming more so daily – while Twitter continues to have more visitors monthly that don't become active users than actual MAUs.
The first quarter also saw a milestone of sorts: for the first time ever, over 50% of the unique members that logged into LinkedIn in Q1 were of the mobile variety. With literally billions of mobile devices in use around the globe, implementing a successful mobile strategy isn't a nicety, it's a necessity: and LinkedIn is making huge strides in the right direction.
This year, Sordello said Lynda.com will add a meager $20 million to $25 million in revenue to LinkedIn's topline. However, both Sordello and Weiner were giddy when discussing the future potential of Lynda.com and its online, professional training and education solutions. The market for Lynda.com's services is projected to grow to as much as $30 billion over the next several years.
Finally, LinkedIn announced it has increased its customer base 35% over last year, thanks in part to its focus on small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). And spending-per-customer is up 30% year-over-year due to successfully introducing a slightly higher fee structure.
If your investment time horizon is next month, LinkedIn isn't for you. But for investors with an eye toward next year, and beyond, LinkedIn's strategic growth objectives remain intact. The difference is the time frame for delivering on those objectives has been pushed back: and therein lies the opportunity. Give Weiner and his management team some time, and LinkedIn will deliver the goods: and today's investors will reap the rewards.