Square Inc (NYSE:SQ), the payment play from Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) founder Jack Dorsey, has gained 400% in just 2.5 years on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s now worth $25 billion. This year alone, shares have almost tripled, rising from $23 to $63.
That leaves shares of Square stock around $10 over the average price target of analysts, the majority of whom have a buy rating on the stock. But it’s also left many investors and analysts with skepticism. According to Yahoo Finance, 16% of SQ shares are currently held short.
Buckingham Research analyst Chris Brendler just lowered his rating on Square from “buy” to “neutral,” too. While he admitted the company has compelling revenue and growing margins, he believes investors are ignoring “longer term fundamental concerns” — including growing competition.
Recently, Square made headlines when its peer-to-peer transactions offering, called Square Cash, began allowing some users to buy and sell bitcoin. But at its core, the company is a merchant play — not a Venmo competitor or crypto investment vehicle. The device allows businesses to accept credit card payments through a gadget by simply plugging in a Square reader. While the Square reader itself is free, the company monetizes each swipe with a 2.75% fee.
Since 2009, Square has racked up over 3 billion users and $10 billion in payments per year, according to a recent article from Merchant Maverick.
But while Square was an early mover in the merchant space, its competition isn’t sleeping. Intuit Inc. (NASDAQ:INTU) has a GoPayment service that’s integrated with QuickBooks. PayPal Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:PYPL) has a service called Here that accepts credit card payments, checks, and PayPay transactions. Banks like Wells Fargo & Co (NYSE:WFC) are simplifying their small business charges to compete with Square. And there’s also an offering called Clover from a company called First Data, which Brendler cited in his downgrade.
Sure, Brendler moved his price target on SQ shares up despite dropping his rating to neutral, but the upped level is still lower than the stock’s current price. Competition isn’t the only reason to think Square might be a bit frothy right now. The aforementioned bitcoin announcement had some investors thinking the payments company is a crypto play — and we all know crypto is the latest tech buzzword.
“For almost three months, the Square narrative has been conflated with the bitcoin narrative despite the latter’s likely minimal real impact on the former,” BTIG analyst Mark Palmer wrote earlier this year.
In its most recent earning report, Square said it sold a total of $34 million in bitcoin during the first few months of 2018, but it cost basically the same amount to buy that cryptocurrency in the first place.
Bottom Line on SQ Stock
That’s not to say there isn’t real growth happening at Square. The company is supposed to earn 12 cents per share this quarter en route to stacking 46 cents per share for the full year, which will represent 71% growth year-over-year. A similar bottom-line expansion is on tap for the year after as well.
But while growth is great, it doesn’t necessarily translate to value. Much like Brendler, I’m hardly bearish in Square as a company. And yet, I wouldn’t buy in at these levels. The company sports a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 81 and is facing increasing competition — not from nascent companies, but from those that have dominated the space for some time and thus have infrastructure, capital and relationships to leverage.
If Square takes a dramatic dip in the coming months — which wouldn’t surprise me at all — I would buy it at a discount. But I would proceed with extreme caution otherwise.
As of this writing, Robert Martin did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.