Pinterest may not be this year’s most anticipated initial public offering, but analysts say it shouldn’t be overlooked as an investment.
“If you get blinded by all the other stars out there, you’re missing on the value Pinterest has,” said Andrew Lipsman, analyst at research firm eMarketer, referring to Uber, Lyft and a raft of other big-name tech companies that have either filed for IPOs or recently gone public. “It’s just getting started as a powerful ad business.”
Pinterest, the digital pinboard whose shares started trading on Thursday after the company’s IPO, is dark horse among a group of highly-valued tech companies making their Wall Street debuts this year. Compared to some of those money-hemorrhaging peers like Uber and Lyft, Pinterest’s business is somewhat stronger, although it still faces a number of challenges in competing against larger rivals like Instagram for ad dollars and making money from its international users.
In Pinterest’s trading debut on Thursday, investors took a glass half full view and sent the company’s shares up 27% to $24.13 in mid-day trading.
James Cordwell, an analyst with Atlantic Equities, said Pinterest has some of the “best looking” financials among fellow tech companies going public. It has steadily grown its monthly active users and revenue while paring its losses.
Pinterest said it ended the fourth quarter of 2018 with 285 million users, according to filings with Securities and Exchange Commission leading up to its IPO. It also increased its average revenue per user in the U.S. from 39 cents in the first quarter of 2016 to $1.06 by the fourth quarter of 2018.
On the other hand, in a sign of the difficult work ahead, Pinterest said its average revenue for each of its 184 million international users was just 9 cents during the fourth quarter of 2018. In other words, next to nothing from what is its biggest source of user growth.
The company had $755.9 million in revenue in 2018, up from $472.9 million the previous year. At the same time, it lost $63 million, an improvement over a $130 million loss in the year before.
This is a stark contrast to some of the other companies that have or will go public in what is described as a historic year. Lyft, which held its high-anticipated IPO last month, reported a huge and growing loss of $911 million in 2018. Meanwhile, Uber said it lost $1.8 billion last year, if the sale of parts of its Southeast Asia and Russia businesses were excluded. Uber is expected to go public in the next couple of weeks.
Still, Tom Forte, analyst at D.A. Davidson, is cautious in analyzing Pinterest’s business and has put a neutral rating on its shares. He raised concerns that merchants who advertise on the service have a more difficult time determining the effectiveness of their marketing.
“My primary concern is their ad tech is a work in progress,” he said.
Google has been among the leaders in providing advertisers with data about the performance of their campaigns, making it tougher for others like Pinterest to compete. Meanwhile, big social media competitors such as Instagram, which is slowly expanding into e-commerce, could also steal some of the limelight from Pinterest. Atlantic Equities’ Cordwell said users likely spend more time on Instagram daily than on Pinterest.
“That’s a problem for how much traffic Pinterest can provide to advertisers,” Cordwell said.
Pinterest also could take a hit from international privacy laws like General Data Protection Regulation, a strict set of rules that the European Union passed in 2016 for how companies collect, use, and share data. Forte said that Pinterest’s average revenue per international user declined around the same time that GDPR took effect, and that could signal future complications as the company tries to profit off its global business.
But if Pinterest can even take 1% of the digital ad market, estimated to be worth $129 billion this year, the company would be successful, said Ali Mogharabi, analyst at Morningstar Research Services.
“That’s good enough for these guys to be profitable and possibly even produce attractive returns,” he said.