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All You Ever Wanted to Know About Groupon

As I mentioned in my last article, I like the steps the company is taking to leverage its user base, such as with Getaways (Groupon's Travel partnership with Expedia), Groupon Now and, now, Groupon Goods. We've even heard Andrew Mason refer to Groupon Now (which lets consumers search for deals within a certain proximity to a specific location) as the future of Groupon, and I'm guessing he's right.

But as of the last tally, Groupon Now has been off to a slow start, with only $1 million of gross billings (according to data provider Yipit) in September, despite being available in 25 markets. Getaways, on the other hand, has been successful, with $10 million in gross billings during its first calendar month, as has Groupon Goods, which did $2 million in sales during its first week. The negative part is that Expedia is now questioning the value of working with Groupon. On its recent quarterly call, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that, despite early success, management is trying to determine if Groupon customers are coming back to use Expedia for other travel needs.

The bottom line is that the sentiment regarding Groupon is as negative as I have ever seen for any IPO. I've displayed the statistics and graphs for Groupon, which show that the trends are slowing drastically. Despite this, there is a real and (in my opinion) sustainable business here. I, like others, believe that "deal fatigue" is a major concern. But, as Groupon continues to evolve, the company will likely find its niche, albeit at a much slower growth rate.

So, the big question is whether to buy at the IPO. While I have become more optimistic regarding the company's prospects in the past few months, I still can't get comfortable with any valuation close to $10 billion. And the odds are that the stock closes a lot higher Thursday, given the low supply and likely huge retail interest.

If Groupon Now evolves and becomes the primary driver of revenue for the company, and management can figure out how to scale and become profitable without relying on huge marketing expenses, Groupon could be a great investment. The problem is that these are big "if's," and you would be paying dearly to gain a piece of this probability for success.

The stock might be a great trade for a trader, but for long-term investors, stay on the sidelines and wait this one out.

Equity research manager Chris Stuart, CFA, joined TheStreet Ratings after working as a senior investment analyst with Merrill Lynch covering small-cap equity and alternative investment strategies. Prior to that, Stuart worked for One Beacon Insurance as an actuarial analyst and at H&R Block as a financial adviser. Stuart earned his bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He holds a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation and is a member of the Boston Security Analysts Society (BSAS) and the CFA Institute.
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