Between the buyout buzz and anticipation for a new digital platform, the market's getting excited about Pandora Media (P) again. The stock was already trading 92% higher since bottoming out in February, and that was before the streaming music pioneer opened higher this morning after SunTrust analyst Robert Peck upgraded the stock.
Peck is boosting his rating from neutral to buy. He's also dramatically hiking his price target from $12 to $18. Peck sees plenty of potential catalysts in the future.
Pandora mentioned during this summer's earnings call that it plans to roll out an on-demand offering later this year, giving it a premium product to compete against Spotify and Apple (AAPL -0.60%). Tech blogs and recent analyst notes suggest that the platform is coming sooner rather than later. The chatter claims that Pandora is in talks with record labels to have direct deals, opening the door to expand from its present music discovery service. Peck feels that there's a real opportunity to cash in here by offering different tiers.
Peck is also encouraged by Pandora's chances at being acquired. That's the speculation that has fueled a good chunk of the stock's gains in recent months, and there was even a story this summer claiming that Pandora shot down a proposal to be acquired for $15 a share. However, even if that doesn't happen, Peck still feels that Wall Street's estimates are too conservative.
Cracking open Pandora's box
There's a lot that can still go wrong. Growth in terms of popularity has stalled. Pandora is now serving up tunes to 78.1 million active listeners. That's a lot of music buffs, but it's also less than the 79.4 million on Pandora's rolls a year ago.
The competition is also getting strong. Spotify continues to gain ground globally, and Apple Music is now up to 17 million premium subscribers. That's important since less than 5% of Pandora's users actually pay for the online radio service.
The good news for Pandora is that the folks sticking around are listening more. Advertisers are also willing to pay more to reach them.
We also can't ignore that the 95% of Pandora users who lean on the platform by putting up with ads to hear curated tunes may not be freeloaders forever. Pandora likely stands a better chance of winning them over than Apple of Spotify if it offers a comparable service. It's the app they are already running, and the service they already trust.
The catalysts are there for the picking. Bulls just better hope that the favorable developments materialize before the buyout speculation fades out.