With its shares down 42% year to date and trading near 52-week lows, car-buying website TrueCar (TRUE - Get Report) isn't looking as thrilling as investors expected. That weakness is in spite of U.S. auto sales maintaining the industry's highest sales rate in more than decade.
TrueCar's fourth-quarter fiscal 2015 earnings results will be released after the closing bell Thursday.
But TrueCar has become a false hope for investors. Not only is the company's loss for both the quarter and full year projected to widen from the year-ago quarter, TrueCar's revenue has begun to slow, suggesting things could still get worse, despite the appeal of the stock's cheap price.
For the quarter that ended in December, the average analyst earnings-per-share estimate calls for a 4-cent loss per share on revenue of $65.43 million, compared to the year-ago quarter when TrueCar reported breakeven earnings on revenue of $55.47 million. For the full year, the loss is projected to widen to 12 cents, from 5 cents a year ago, while revenue of $260.69 million would mark a year-over-year rise of 26%.
TrueCar's mission was to reinvent the way car dealers attract customers and sell their cars. For a while, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company grew quarterly revenue by an average of more than 40% year over year in the five quarters prior to the second quarter. And during that span, TrueCar met or beat its consensus earnings targets.
TrueCar has since taken a weaker turn.
Not only has revenue in the second and third quarters slowed by an average of 12 percentage points, the company's franchise dealer count fell 6% sequentially in the third quarter, from 9,300 to 8,702. The reason for the dealer decline? TrueCar's relationship with the AutoNation (AN - Get Report) was severed in July over a reported contract dispute.
“TrueCar has made some onerous demands in its new contract negotiations with us that are unprecedented in my 45 years in business and are unconscionable and unacceptable,” AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson told Automotive News. “We cannot agree to them.”
TrueCar's relationship with its dealers is important because the more dealers that sign up for its services, the more money TrueCar is able to make by selling advertising space on its website. AutoNation, the country’s largest new-car retailer at one point had 226 of its dealerships using TrueCar's services.
Unless TrueCar can repair its dealer relationships and grow revenue, its stock price -- which is down almost 74% since its February 2015 high of $21 -- will continue to suffer. The 2016 EPS estimates of 5 cents a share would mark a return to earnings growth, but it seems unlikely that TrueCar could hit that mark.