Zynga Gamble a Worthy Bet

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- After Zynga's (ZNGA) robust earnings report, the online game maker shares catapulted higher. I think the stock is at the very beginning of a journey upward. I first posted my bull thesis in Real Money Pro in an update including what price to buy at and a one-year price target of $10 or more.

The analysts following the company are holding the window of opportunity open for you. TheStreet's Chris Ciaccia reported some comments from several analysts in his Jan. 31 piece on Zynga's surge. According to Ciaccia, BMO Capital Markets rated the company as a hold with a price target of $3.50, underperformance predicted from Credit Suisse with a $4 price target, and Jefferies was somewhat neutral with a market perform $4 price target.

Not listed in the article is my favorite, by Sterne Agee almost a month ago, that sent shares racing lower on Jan. 16. The analyst can be forgiven for incorrectly estimating the fourth-quarter results. Ten days later, Zynga made every squeezed short seller holding wish they covered into the fall.

While all analysts use the best metrics available and calculate earnings estimates, Sterne Agee and the rest fail to understand that next quarter and comparative bookings overall are not the way to value Zynga.

The company is more accurately valued as an online real-money poker and gambling site. Instead of comparing Zynga to Electronic Arts (EA), Activision Blizzard (ATVI) and others in the multimedia and graphics software industry, investors should begin comparing and analyzing Caesars Acquisition Company (CACQ), Caesars (CZR) and International Game Technology (IGT).

Granted, most of the revenue as of the last earnings release is generated from non-gambling games, with most of these players arriving through Facebook (FB), but there is no reason to think it can't morphing from a caterpillar of miserable performance into a gorgeous profitable butterfly. In the span of two short quarters, online gambling already matured into about 25% of Zynga's game revenue.

UBS (UBS) recently upgraded Zynga to a buy with a $6 price target. While I give UBS credit for the upgrade, the motivation appears to miss the mark. Stabilization of core operations, new management and cost reduction measures are highly encouraging, but where are references to the incredible growth and earnings potential?


Don't fret. Until Wall Street wakes up to the realization that the company is a diamond in the rough, investors still have time to acquire exposure while shares are trading under $5. We don't know how much short interest changed since Jan. 16, the day Sterne Agee issued its earnings warning and subsequent rise after the company beat, but it's a safe bet to presume shorts aren't piling on. We will have a better idea on March 1, when the latest short interest numbers are released, and on March 15 we can examine the actual earnings impact.

Short sellers are the smart money, and a precipitous large decline in short interest is a strong indication short sellers no longer believe they have an edge.

The critical question is when will Zynga's viability as a gambling entity become clear, and how long do investors need to wait before the rest of the market gets it?

My take: If not on the next gambling license application, it will happen by the second filing and approval. Currently Zynga has a license only in the UK and it's a highly competitive market. Europe offers more immediate expansion opportunities, although some jurisdictions are currently better than others.

While domestic opportunities may expand at a painfully slow rate for investors, the majority of the online poker and gambling markets reside outside the U.S. right now, leaving Zynga's best gains just ahead for longer-term investors.

At the time of publication, Weinstein is long Zynga.

Follow @RobertWeinstein

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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