Snap’s shares soar in IPO, but analysts are more skeptical than investors

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Today marks the first day of stock trading for Snap Inc., and the Snapchat app maker came out swinging with a more than 40 percent boost over its initial public offering price.

Despite Snap’s early success, however, analysts are still skeptical about the company’s long-term value and worry that we could have another Twitter, instead of a new Facebook, on our hands.

Those doubts didn’t faze investors. Snap hit the market at $17 per share, giving it a valuation of roughly $24 billion, making it one of the largest tech IPOs since Alibaba in 2014. Snap raised over $3.4 billion in the process.

But when the shares starting trading this morning, they shot up about 50 percent, to more than $25. They closed at $24.51, up 44 percent. That gives it a valuation of more than $33 billion.

While it would be easy to get caught up in the IPO hype, a number of analysts are not sure about Snap’s staying power, and many are advising caution when it comes to investing in the company. And it’s not just because the company is unprofitable, losing $515 million last year and warning in its IPO filing that it “may never be profitable.”

“Investors in Snap will be exposed to an upstart facing aggressive competition from much larger companies, with a core user base that is not growing by much and which is only relatively elusive,” Brian Wieser, a senior analyst at Pivotal Research Group, said in a note to clients this morning. Wieser praised Snap as “an innovative, large-scale, and distinctively young-skewing platform,” but added that the company is “significantly overvalued” and may face challenges when it comes to monetization.

“It has a promising and innovative advertising offering, but so far it is still mostly unproven and difficult to quantify its ultimate scale,” Wieser said, slapping a surprisingly low $10 target price on the newly public company.

Wieser is not the only observer who is down on Snap’s long term success. Mike Wade, a professor at the business school IMD, noted that while Snap’s per-user price is in line with other recent deals, the company’s value does not make sense when looking at its revenues and profit, especially when it comes to advertising dollars, by far its main source of revenues.

“People don’t go to Snapchat to search for information (like Google) to find a job (like LinkedIn), to deeply engage with friends (like Facebook), or to buy stuff (like Amazon and Alibaba),” Wade said. “Its medium, much like Twitter, is inherently poorly designed to support advertising, and beyond this, there are no obvious sources of revenues or profit.”

Wade concluded, “Would I invest in Snapchat? That depends. If I was looking for a satisfying quick hit (like I might do when receiving a Snap), then yes. If I were thinking about anything more than a few months, then no.”

Despite analyst concerns about Snap’s long-term viability, its impressive IPO shows that investors are still willing to bet on young tech companies, even in the wake of many so-called unicorns with billion-dollar-plus valuations that could never come up with the revenues to fulfill their promising beginnings. Monetization has been a challenge for many social networks, and while Facebook and Instagram managed to become advertising powerhouses, services like Twitter have continued to struggle.

Snap’s early IPO success could be good news for other tech companies looking to go public, but its performance over the coming weeks will be even more telling. Predicting where Snap’s value will go from here is difficult, but other social media IPOs show a couple of possibilities.

For example, Facebook’s shares struggled the first year after its IPO before steadily climbing to roughly triple their original value. By contrast, Twitter’s first two years were marked by a series of ups and downs before eventually settling into their downward slump.

It will take awhile to determine which direction Snap will go.

Photo: Snapchat via photopin (license)