NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- You lose if you do and you lose if you don't. Some companies just can't seem to catch a break. Although Groupon (GRPN) - Get Free Report didn't have an exceptionally strong fourth quarter, it certainly didn't justify the 22% pullback in the stock last Friday.
Although the stock has rebounded 7% since the decline, Groupon's stock is off by more than $1 billion in value on the basis of one quarter. Why? It's true the company reported a loss, while attempting to do exactly what analysts believe it should do to remain viable. These steps include international expansion and mobile monetization.
Guess which two companies went through these same sort of execution headwinds and constant scrutiny from analysts? Netflix (NFLX) - Get Free Report and Facebook (FB) - Get Free Report. This was prior to their respective stocks soaring more than 200% over the trailing twelve months. It seems like a long time ago now. Groupon is in that same boat. But don't take this as some misguided support.
Look, over the past couple of years, I've taken my own shots at this company. After arriving on the scene with much fanfare, I even called Groupon's business model a scam. It was the only way to assess its brutal 2012 performance. Since then the company has taken meaningful strides. The downbeat guidance notwithstanding, this quarter's results reflected ongoing improvements.
Fourth-quarter revenue rose 20% year over year to $768.4 million, easily beating Street estimates by 7%. When excluding one-time items, the company earned 4 cents per share, which doubled Street estimates of 2 cents. And as bad as analysts are making the net loss of $81.2 million, this was (at worst) flat compared to the year-ago quarter.
I'm not here making excuses for Groupon. Nor am I proclaiming this company to be flawless. But let's not pretend that this has been a strong quarter for online retailers. The Street doesn't seem to mind that Amazon (AMZN) - Get Free Report, which cited increases in its holiday shopping costs for missing both profit and revenue estimates, hasn't fared any better. Although Groupon was hurt this quarter by higher costs, we conveniently forget that eBay's (EBAY) - Get Free Report numbers also fell short.
Groupon can't seem to escape the Street's double-standard. According to some analysts, the company is seen as "burning through millions of dollars in cash." Groupon's minority stake in Chinese competitor Life Media Ltd. is now the most popular cited reason. If this was, say, Google (GOOG) - Get Free Report or Facebook making these acquisitions, the term used would be "investments."
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And if we were to take out that one-time charge of $85.5 million, Groupon would have made money. And this goes back to "you lose if you do, you lose if you don't." With North American revenue declining 10% year over year, critics have been pleading for aggressive international expansion to offset domestic weakness. But these same critics now punish the company for the costs associated with worldwide growth. You can't have it both ways.
What's more, I can't agree with notions that Groupon is fundamentally broken, not when gross billings grew in North America and in the EMEA region. And let's not forget, the company is investing in a new platform that allows merchants to offer deals while bypassing its salespeople. This is one way the company can reduce both its salesforce and cut costs.
As long as Groupon continues to move in the right direction with revenue and global expansion, investors should suck up the short-term pressures on profits. Management is working to develop strategies to turn this company into a long-term sustainable business. But that's not going to come without significant capital investments. And the stock's recent decline just turned Groupon into a good deal.
At the time of publication, the author held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.
This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.