With earnings season heating up, the outlook for the stock market, interest rates, the economy, and the effects these could all have on individual stocks cloud the picture far more than in recent quarters. And that's where we come in.
We recently asked three Motley Fool contributors to identify companies that could encounter headwinds in their upcoming reports, although such short-term struggles don't necessarily reflect their long-term opportunities. For example, Chinese search powerhouse Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) could suffer from deteriorating business conditions in China, but it remains a great long-term pick. Meanwhile, online review site Yelp (NYSE:YELP) shows little to suggest that its recent monetization struggles might abate, setting the stage for a third straight quarterly earnings miss. Lastly, social microblogging platform Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) has enjoyed plenty of recent share price momentum amid its much-discussed management changes, but this recent optimism could quickly reverse if the business struggles that caused its C-suite upheaval continue to affect its results when it reports.
Those quick snapshots certainly fail to convey the entire investing narrative for each of the above companies. Here's a more in-depth look at three tech stocks that could disappoint as we delve deeper into earnings season.
Andrew Tonner (Baidu): It's been a tough time for investors in Chinese companies recently, and those owning shares of Chinese search giant Baidu are no exception. Since July, both Baidu and the Shanghai Composite Index have each fallen more than 20%.
The slowing of the Chinese economy has been one of the most discussed items of the year. And although still projected to expand 6.8% this year, the lowest figure in the past three years, multiple overtures from the government signal more potential trouble over the horizon. Although no direct evidence exists to suggest macroeconomic issues may spill over into Baidu's upcoming results, it also doesn't take an overly active imagination to see how businesses could have decreased advertising spending on platforms like Baidu's in the face of a softening economy.
Should that prove the case, though, long-term-growth investors would do well to consider Baidu as a possible buy. As an emerging power with a proven, high-margin business model, Baidu seems poised to generate ample returns for years to come. The company's advertising model counts only 590,000 of China's estimated 4.3 million small and medium-sized enterprises as customers, affording it generous room to grow its core advertising business. Beyond advertising, Baidu has aggressively moved into China's booming online-to-offline market, a market that CEO Robin Li estimates could be worth over $1 trillion in the long term. So make sure to keep an eye on Baidu when it reports in the weeks to come.
Steve Symington (Yelp): Shares of Yelp are down more than 50% so far in 2015, but I fear investors in the local business-review specialist might be in for even more pain when it reports third-quarter results later this month. Even though Yelp beat expectations on both the top and bottom lines last quarter, shares still plummeted the day after its report, as the company reduced its guidance for 2015, according to CFO Rob Krolik because of a combination of lower-than-expected growth in its sales headcount and the phase-out of brand advertising products.
And though Krolik also suggested that Yelp's core local advertising business remains strong -- local ad revenue climbed 43% year over year to $107.9 million, or nearly 81% of total sales -- I'm more concerned that Yelp's user growth left much to be desired. Desktop users declined 3.3% to 79.2 million, international users fell 3% to 30 million, and growth in mobile unique visitors decelerated to 22% last quarter from 29% in Q1. If that wasn't enough, investors' confidence was bruised when Yelp Chairman and co-founder Max Levchin resigned to "pursue other interests" -- namely, to focus more on his role as CEO of lending start-up Affirm.
Of course, Yelp has already endured so much punishment this year it's possible its upcoming quarterly report could impress investors. But at the very least, to do so might require reaccelerating growth in mobile and international users -- something I'm afraid Yelp may be hard pressed to do given an abundance of competition in the local advertising space.
Jamal Carnette (Twitter): There's no other way to put it: Twitter has been a mess this year. In addition to reporting two disappointing quarterly results -- the first because of a revenue miss and the second because of a poor user-growth outlook -- the company took more than 100 days to make its interim CEO, co-founder Jack Dorsey, permanent after parting ways with former CEO Dick Costolo. I think Twitter will continue its trend of disappointing performance in the upcoming third quarter.
And that's because Twitter now has to hit a trifecta to impress Wall Street: Not only does the company need to surpass revenue and earnings estimates, but the company also has to produce some semblance of monthly active user growth. Right now, the consensus analyst estimates are for $560 million in revenue and $0.05 in EPS, up 55% and 500%, respectively, over last year's corresponding quarter.
But the company's user growth will be the make-or-break stat. Under Dorsey, the company has accelerated its product development, but probably not in time to reverse its slowing monthly user growth in the upcoming report. See the following table for the past five quarters.
|Metric||Q2 '14||Q3 '14||Q4 '14||Q1 '15||Q2 '15|
|Monthly Active Users||271||284||288||302||304|
Twitter's user growth is slowing considerably. On a year-on-year basis, Twitter's growth rate has been cut in half during the listed period, as many find the service difficult to use and to acquire followers. If Twitter's unable to continue to grow this figure, slowing revenue growth will follow.
In the end, though, I feel that Dorsey and Co. will figure this out and reverse the stock's recent poor performance. Recent reports say the company's product road map has accelerated. The most recent addition has been Twitter Moments, and the company is supposedly looking into cutting "bloated staff levels" in an attempt to become a more profitable, more quickly executing company. Will this show up in third-quarter earnings? No, but it portends better results in future quarters.