The bullish case for payment-processor Square Inc (NYSE:SQ) is becoming increasingly difficult to digest. Revenue continues to rise, but the loss continues to widen. It’s not the forward progress one would hope to see by this point.
Yet, there it is. Square stock is up 75% since its June low, decisively shrugging off a couple post-IPO selloffs from the first half of 2016.
What gives? The obvious answer is the correct one. That is, investors decided the conceivable future for SQ stock looks considerably more compelling than it did just a few months ago. And, this time around, it was analysts leading the opinion rather than being led by it.
Those professionals may well be right about Square stock too.
SQ Stock Analysts Say …
It’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, so in the interest of time and efficiency, take a look at how analyst opinions on — and price targets for — SQ stock have morphed over the course of the past year.
The pros are clearly changing their tune on Square, for the better.
Equally interesting is the commentary that accompanied those upgrades. Take, for example, what Pacific Crest analyst Josh Beck wrote when he upgraded Square stock to “Overweight” back in November:
“Square is set up for a consistent series of positive fundamental surprises over the next year. Payments and (operating expense) upside may shift focus to incremental profitability and cash flow, leading to a positive re-rating of the stock.”
One of those positive fundamental surprises Beck was referencing was the company’s then-recent foray into lending.
Bryan Keane of Deutsche Bank echoed the idea a few days later, commenting on his firm’s upgrade of Square stock to a “Buy”:
“Square is currently at an important inflection point as it turns towards profitability while maintaining industry leading growth rates. We believe Square’s current Q4, 2016 guidance and street fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018 estimates could prove conservative.”
Needham opened up its coverage of SQ in mid-December, also calling it a “Buy” largely because it provided a soup-to-nuts solution for small businesses. Pacific Crest said something along those same lines earlier this month when it raised its price target on Square stock from $15 to $17, as Barclays did around the same time. When one person or organization says it, it’s dismissible. When two say it, it’s curious. When three say it, there’s something to it. But when four say it, it’s difficult to disagree with the budding consensus.
So how does a stock the market is barely lukewarm on — a stock of a company that has been reliably unprofitable despite revenue growth — suddenly find that much favor among the analyst community? The aforementioned entry into small-business lending is one of the big reasons.
It’s a business the company actually got into a long while ago. It wasn’t a division Square investors could get excited about, however, until the second quarter of 2016 when Square Capital’s loan originations grew 123% on a year-over-year basis. That big growth convincingly sent a message that lending could indeed become a key profit center.
It’s not just making loans in a period of rising interest rates that bodes well for Square stock for the foreseeable future, however. CEO Jack Dorsey, who splits time with his role as chief of Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR), has been putting a handful of new initiatives in place.
One of those initiatives is an effort to start winning more large clients, rather than limit its focus to small and mid-sized merchants. It’s working too. In the third quarter of last year, gross payment volume for its larger customers grew 55% year-over-year, versus only 39% growth for its overall payment volume handled.
Peer-to-peer payments have also become a reality for SQ. And, after launching its virtual payment card in September, Square announced in December that card would work with Apple Pay, exposing the payment middleman to the 10 million people that use the service from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) every week.
These are all big steps forward, even if they’ve gone largely unnoticed by most investors. That said, the stock’s 30% advance since the middle of last year clearly indicates at least a few people are noticing.
Bottom Line for Square Stock
As difficult as it may be to step into a company that’s still posting losses and is expected to do so again in this year, analysts aren’t likely to be wrong in being increasingly bullish on Square stock. The company has been doing a lot, and getting good traction with most of it, since its late-2015 IPO. With a price-to-sales ratio of a modest 3.19, the eventual swing to profitability could be quite catalytic for SQ shares. Indeed, the mere ongoing advance to that end zone has already proven catalytic for Square stock.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.