As the social media upstart prepares to post its third quarterly earnings report on Tuesday, could the third time be the charm? For that to happen, Snap will have to show healthy revenue and user growth, as well as slowing losses. It'll also have to show that big product investments are paying off via greater user engagement.
A better-than-expected earnings report would bring some much-needed upside to shares of Snap, which have been beaten down more than 39% so far this year. Thanks to a series of new product roll-outs, the stock has rallied almost 10% since hitting an all-time low of $11.83 on Aug. 11, but investors remain concerned that Snap's overall growth has decelerated (and even perhaps plateaued) amid competition from Facebook Inc. (FB - Get Report) , among other risks.
Snap shares closed Monday at $14.83, down 2.8% for the day and well below its IPO price of $17. On Thursday morning they were up about 2% to $15.13.
For the third quarter, Wall Street expects Snap to report a loss of 32 cents per share and $237.2 billion in revenue, according to FactSet. Analysts project that the company added just eight million new daily active users (DAUs) to its platform during the quarter, bringing its total DAUs to 181 million. Average revenue per user (or how much money Snap is able to squeeze out of existing users) is forecast to grow sequentially to $1.30.
Here are three things to keep an eye on as the disappearing message app gets ready to report earnings after Tuesday's market close:
1. The strength of Snap's advertising businessAds are the linchpin of Snap's revenue, accounting for roughly 96% of its total sales. The company has tried to position itself as an entry point to the coveted millennial demographic, while offering uniquely targeted ad products like sponsored lenses, branded geofilters and augmented reality-powered World Lenses. Despite that, some advertisers have relegated Snap to its experimental ad budget, which has kept the company from becoming a digital ad juggernaut like Facebook or Alphabet Inc. ( GOOGL - Get Report) .
In recent months, Snap has tried to make inroads with brands by introducing a self-serve ad manager. Snap's self-serve ad product lets brands convert their advertisements into the company's vertical video format, which is expected to remove some of the friction for brands who don't want to create specific campaigns tailored to that format. It also allows brands to bid for ad spots, rather than to buy them based on preset pricing.
In the interim, that's expected to drive ad prices down, but ultimately, analysts and investors believe it could increase the volume of advertisers on the platform.
"With strong secular ad growth trends on the mobile landscape heading into 2018, Snap now needs to better monetize its growing installed base with additional content, partner programs, international growth expansion, and the self-serve platform helping expand the company's tentacles to advertisers that have previously bypassed the platform," said GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives.
2. Any upticks in user engagementInvestors have increasingly taken on the view that if Snap's DAUs can't match Facebook's 2 billion-plus user network, then it will have to show that existing users are spending more time on Snapchat. Snapchat users are believed to be spending as much as 42 minutes per day on the app, which is higher than the 25 minutes Instagram users are spending on the app.
Snap has tried to ensure greater user engagement by introducing new features like Snap Maps and Context Cards, which enables users to add information like reviews, contact information and directions to their Snaps. Additionally, Snap has introduced features like 3D Bitmoji lenses and new original shows.
Some analysts are confident that these product innovations will lead to greater user engagement, but not all.
"While Snapchat's product improvements may appeal to its existing user base, we do not expect any coming inflection in user growth," said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. "...Meanwhile, competitors' efforts are clearly driving results, with Instagram's DAUs now reaching 500 million, and Instagram Stories' DAUs reaching 300 million."
3. A path to profitability
A few analysts have argued that it's too early to expect Snap to be headed toward profitability, but others are growing more and more impatient.
For one thing, Snap hasn't done itself many favors by not playing by Wall Street's rules. The company refuses to give any forward-looking guidance, which has made it difficult for analysts to ascertain what Snap's expectations are for the business. Simply put, if the company foresees any kind of meaningful growth, it hasn't given Wall Street any sign of that by withholding guidance.
It's probably too early to conclude what that means for the overall business, but analysts are likely to ask questions about headcount and growing expenses during Tuesday's earnings call.
"We find it difficult to handicap the news of a hiring slowdown as either a leading indicator (i.e. a sign that revenue isn't ramping as fast as planned), or as a lagging indicator (they've already underperformed revenue growth targets and see a need to show cost discipline / a clearer path to profitability to win over investors)," said Stifel analyst Scott Devitt. "We will listen closely for commentary on the rationale behind the personnel decisions."
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