With its stock up 60% for the past twelve months, and higher to the tune of 47% just since the late-December low, investors have certainly given online retailer Wayfair (NYSE:W) the benefit of any doubt. On Friday morning, all those buyers will find out if their bets on Wayfair stock were warranted.
That’s when the company will be releasing fourth-quarter numbers, indicating how well it did during last year’s all-important holiday shopping season.
Expectations are modest, all things considered. While sales are projected to have improved by nearly 37% year-over-year, the company has invested heavily in its growth. It has invested so heavily, in fact, that its persistent losses are expected to widen despite the scale-up.
Problem: Shareholders are generally growing weary that have to choose between market share and profitability.
Heavy Spending to Crimp Wayfair Stock Earnings
It’s a moving target to be sure.
Wayfair, an online retailer that specializes in home goods, hasn’t been afraid to pull several levers at the same time in an effort to expand its customer base and pump up its top line.
Case(s) in point: The launch of a private-label credit card, a fee-generating subscription service called MyWay, investments in its customer loyalty efforts and the launch of a mixed reality app that lets consumers visualize what a piece of furniture would look like in their home are just some of the savvy initiatives Wayfair has taken on of late.
They’re smart, business-building projects too. The company’s one million-plus credit card holders are expected to collectively spend on the order of $900 million with Wayfair this year.
These initiatives “work,” but they don’t come cheap. For its fourth fiscal quarter ending in December, analysts are looking for revenue of $1.97 billion, up 36.6% from the year-earlier top line of $1.44 billion. But, the year-ago loss of 58 cents per share of Wayfair stock is projected to widen to a loss of $1.28, as the e-commerce name pays for all the projects it’s taken on.
For the full year, analysts are modeling revenue of $6.73 billion and a per-share loss of $4.24. That revenue outlook is up 42.6%, but the expected loss is more than twice 2017’s loss of $1.97 per share of W stock.
Weighing Wayfair Stock
None of the nuance is unfamiliar to investors, who’ve seen fellow e-commerce players like Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Overstock.com (NASDAQ:OSTK) spend heavily in the name of establishing a customer base.
Not all names necessarily ever get into the black and stay there though. Amazon’s future looks reasonably secure in that it’s finally turning a reliable profit, but Overstock was only able to occasionally tease investors with actual operating income before CEO Patrick Byrne decided last year to sell its retail operations and focus in cryptocurrency.
Credit Suisse analyst Stephen Ju thinks it’s a long game, penning last month that the bullish thesis on Wayfair stock “is entirely predicated on the long-term growth and profitability trajectory that these investments will help drive.”
If true, it plays right into the hand Wayfair is holding. Ju also said the company’s market share in the home goods arena “remains strong and defensible in the near-to-medium term.”
Defensible, but not yet profitable.
And there’s the rub for current and prospective shareholders. The palatability of consistently unprofitable companies has been slowly but surely deteriorating.
That may not be a stumbling block for Wayfair in the distant, distant future. Ju believes by 2021, Wayfair’s net profit contribution per international customer will reach $4, and grow to $27 per year by 2024. The metrics for U.S. customers looks even better. The Credit Suisse analyst believes U.S. customers will contribute $27 in net profits by 2021, and ramp-up that number to $45 by 2024.
Much can happen, and change, in five years though. In the e-commerce arena, that may as well be 50 years. It’s certainly more than enough time for Amazon.com or Walmart (NYSE:WMT) to turn the key on something better focused on home goods than either has cultivated yet.
Bottom Line for W Stock
Still, the bulls have tipped their hand. Although it has been a volatile past couple of years, each pullback from Wayfair stock has been ultimately met with higher highs. If the company can convince investors it’s on track to meet its long-range profitability goals, the market may once again see the glass as half-full.
There’s no room for error though. Most investors are already skeptical the broad market’s got room and reason to keep rising. Anything less than a solid earnings beat and a healthy outlook for 2019 could easily put a wave of profit-taking in motion.
To that end, analysts are collectively looking for revenue of $8.86 billion this year to lead to a per-share loss of $4.37. If the costly initiatives are going to lead to profitability — or even smaller losses — nobody’s expecting it to start happening this year.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can learn more about James at his site, jamesbrumley.com, or follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.