Pandora's Box May Never Be Able to Make Money

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- After Pandora ( P) missed analysts' earnings estimates, they're questioning the company's ability to make money from its massive user base.

Oakland, Calif.-based Pandora has more than 125 million users, and listener growth is doubling on an annual basis. Still, profits elude the company. Fears are growing Pandora may not be profitable for some time. The company competes in the paid radio market with Sirius XM ( SIRI) and Spotify.

Pandora noted on a conference call Tuesday that mobile monetization would take place over the next 18 to 24 months, and analysts are worried about the company's ability to execute.

Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney downgraded Pandora, adding to those fears, based mainly off the the company's inability to monetize mobile.

Mahaney noted that a good portion of the long thesis is still intact but content costs are constantly rising, and Pandora's inability to generate revenue from its mobile platform (which Mahaney said is over 70% of usage) is a concern.

He noted that fiscal year 2013 monetization will be flat, which "blows up the Pandora model." "The broad takeaway for purely ad-based Internet models (especially those that aren't lead-gen or Search based) may well be that the Mobile Transition will be rocky. For a 3-5 year VC timeframe, that's fine. For a 6-18 month Public Investor timeframe, that isn't. Hence, the downgrade...," Mahaney wrote in his note to clients.

Mahaney cut the price target to $17 from $25, and downgraded shares to neutral from outperform.

Wells Fargo analyst Jason Maynard also cut his estimates on Pandora and pushed monetization further out, but didn't downgrade the shares.

"The transition from desktop to mobile is going well, perhaps too well, as monetization is lagging the huge growth in listener hours and CAC. Mobile listening accounts for over 70% of total hours, and unfortunately still has low CPM's relative to the desktop web," Maynard wrote in his note. He lowered his earnings estimates for 2013 to a loss of 16 cents a share, down from a loss of 1 cent. He did raise his revenue estimate to $410 million from $405 million. He cut his price target to $15-$18 from $21-$23 and kept his outperform rating.

The Internet radio company reported a loss of 3 cents a share on revenue of $81.3 million for the three months ended in January. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were looking for a loss of 2 cents a share on revenue of $83.1 million.

In addition to the earnings miss, Pandora provided weaker-than-expected first-quarter guidance, which analysts are attributing to weak advertising sales. Pandora said it expects first-quarter revenue to be between $72 million and $75 million. Analysts had been expecting first-quarter revenue of about $86 million.

Pandora shares were sharply lwoer in Wednesday trading, down 24.9% to $10.72.

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-- Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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