Zynga Jumps: What Wall Street's Thinking

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Zynga (ZNGA) shares surged after the social game maker posted revenue that was better than forecast and founder Marc Pincus announced he was stepping down from chief product officer at the company, allowing CEO Don Mattrick to take over the San Francisco-based company entirely.

San Francisco-based Zynga lost a penny a share on $161 million in revenue for the quarter, at the company's high end of its previous guidance, as the company achieved sequential growth across bookings, adjusted EBITDA, audience and mobile bookings mix for first time in 2 years. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters were looking for a loss of 1 cent a share on $147 million in bookings.

"In Q1 our teams delivered a solid start to the year against our strategic frame of growing and sustaining our franchises, creating new hits and driving efficiencies. We have established a strong base for 2014 and believe we are pacing well for a year of growth," said Don Mattrick, CEO Zynga in the press release. "For the first time in two years, our teams delivered sequential growth across our key performance metrics including bookings, Adjusted EBITDA, mobile bookings mix and audience."

Separately, Zynga announced founder Mark Pincus would step down from his role as chief product officer, but would still continue to be chairman of the board.

Shares of Zynga surged in pre-market trading, gaining 5.9% to $4.68.

The results come just a few short days after Zynga announced FarmVille 2: Country Escape, a new mobile game that will allow players to connect both on and off line to play the new game, any way they want, anytime they want.

Zynga gave second-quarter guidance, saying it expects revenue to be between $140 million and $160 million, with bookings between $175 million and $195 million. The company expects adjusted EBITDA to be between $10 million and $20 million, with non-GAAP earnings between breakeven and a 1 cent gain. Analyst surveyed by Thomson Reuters are expecting the company to be breakeven for the quarter, on $182.2 million in sales.

For 2014, Zynga expects bookings to be between $770 million and $810 million, with adjusted EBITDA between $70 million and $100 million. The company expects non-GAAP earnings to be between 1 and 3 cents a share. Zynga did not give revenue guidance for the full year.

Analysts are expecting Zynga to generate $780.4 million in revenue for the quarter, earning 1 cent share on a non-GAAP basis.

Following the earnings call and the guidance, analysts were positive on the company, as the focus shifts to the back half of 2014. Several analysts raised their price targets following the results. Here's what a few of them had to say.

Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Graham (Hold, $5 PT)

Amidst a backdrop marked by pockets of business pressure, Zynga reported another in a string of quarters with solid execution relative to guidance. Bookings grew sequentially for the first time in 5 quarters despite major shrinkage from Farmville. We believe management deserves high marks for stabilizing the business; while investor focus will quickly shift to how the company can hope to achieve dramatic growth acceleration for the balance of the year. We remain optimistically cautious pending evidence of successful game launches.

BMO Capital Markets analyst Edward Williams (Market Perform, $4.50 PT)

The performance was driven by better-than-expected bookings from key franchises and higher-than-expected gross margins from the closure of a data center. The company returned to growth a quarter earlier than generally anticipated, posting q/q growth across bookings, adjusted EBITDA, audience metrics, and mobile bookings mix for the first time in two years; we expect sequential growth in each successive quarter throughout the rest of 2014 driven the company's key franchises. We believe FarmVille 2: Country Escape is off to a strong start on mobile with four million installs six days after launch - the title has reached the No. 1 free game in 40 countries and has broken into the top 20 grossing charts on both the iPad and iPhone in the US.

Barclays Capital analyst Christopher Merwin (Equal Weight, $5 PT)

The recovery appears to be very much on track for Zynga, as 1Q bookings of $161M and EBITDA of $14M came in ahead of our expectations. Most encouragingly, audience growth across all metrics improved sequentially in the 1Q, as did gross bookings for core titles Words With Friends and Zynga Poker. While discussion about the product pipeline was limited, management did say that they plan to step up spend on marketing for new titles, which may drive slight q/q margin compression in 2Q. We are modestly raising our 2014 bookings estimates and also increasing our price target to $5 from $4.50, in order to reflect our improving outlook for bookings, particularly on mobile.

--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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