For social media company Snap (NYSE:SNAP), life as a public company has been a roller coaster. It started with a huge post-IPO pop, as SNAP stock jumped from its $17 IPO price to $30 within the first few days of trading.
Then, a few bad earnings reports later, SNAP stock price tumbled all the way to $5, as its user growth fell flat, its revenue growth slowed, and its losses piled up. In 2019, though, SNAP stock has nearly doubled amid renewed user growth, healthy revenue growth trends, and improving margins.
In other words, Snap stock has risen tremendously, tumbled, and rallied by a large amount, all in two years. Naturally, the question now is: What’s next? Another surge higher? Another huge retreat?
Neither. I actually think Snapchat stock will break its two-year trading pattern and move largely sideways for the rest of the year. SNAP stock price won’t drop tremendously because it has tons of catalysts on the horizon which should help it grow at healthy rates. But it won’t rally in a big way, either, because its valuation is very rich and already prices in gains from all those catalysts.
So, for the first time in its two-year history, SNAP stock may actually find some stability at this point in the lower double-digit range.
Lots of Catalysts Will Keep Selling Muted
Snap has a plethora of catalysts on the horizon which will keep its growth trends healthy for the rest of 2019, and that elevated growth will keep investors from selling SNAP stock in bulk.
Snap has shown good progress in early 2019. After plateauing for several quarters, Snap’s user base finally grew again in early 2019, as the company moved past the awful redesign headaches that plagued it in 2018. Its revenue growth trends broadly remained healthy as advertisers continue to give the platform a shot because of its unprecedented reach among America’s young people. Its gross margins continued to move higher, and its operating-spending rates dropped, as its business grew.
All in all, Snap has proven that it can continue to grow, and that’s why SNAP stock has bounced back from the dead.
These improved growth trends should persist for the rest of the year. On the user-growth front, Snap’s user base should remain largely stable as the ramp over at Instagram in general and Instagram Stories in particular appears to be in the rear-view mirror. Plus, the company has successfully overhauled its Android app, and that should boost its international user growth.
Meanwhile, on the revenue front, continued healthy user growth trends should help Snap attract more and more advertisers to the platform. Also, the more mature Snap’s advertising business gets, the more ad dollars it should attract as advertisers become more and more comfortable with spending money on the relatively new platform. Its gross margins will continue to improve as its business grows, and its operating-spending rates will continue to drop.
All in all, SNAP’s growth trends should remain favorable for SNAP stock for the rest of the year. Because of that, it’s tough to see SNAP stock price falling much from its current level.
Rich Valuation Will Keep Buying Muted
At the same time, it’s equally tough to see SNAP stock rallying much, given its already stretched valuation. In short, SNAP stock price already fully reflects all of the company’s 2019 positive catalysts, and then some.
SNAP stock currently trades at 12 times its 2018 sales. That puts the stock in a class of its own when it comes to digital advertising names. Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) trades at nine times its trailing sales. So does Twitter (NYSE:TWTR). Meanwhile, Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) trades at six times its trailing sales. Indeed, the only other digital ad stock with a comparable sales multiple is Pinterest (NYSE:PINS), and Pinterest’s revenues surged 50%-plus last quarter and its user base jumped 20%-plus.
In contrast, Snap’s revenues increased by less than 40% last quarter, and its user count dropped year-over-year.
A great deal of the premium valuation reflected by SNAP stock is due to its potential ability to increase its margins. Snap runs huge operating losses, while Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet all have very high margins. The potential for Snap to one day generate high margins is largely responsible for the premium multiple of SNAP stock.
But, even taking into account the potential margin increase, today’s valuation seems full. Snap’s revenues can and will easily rise at a 20%-plus rate for the foreseeable future. Its gross margins can climb towards 80%. Its operating-spending rates could reasonably drop towards 30% as its business grows. But, even with all those aggressive assumptions, Snap will still only report EPS of about $0.70 by fiscal 2025.
Based on a forward multiple of 25 which is average for digital-advertising stocks,, that implies a reasonable 2024 price target for Snap stock of $17.50. Discounted back by 10% per year, that equates to a fiscal 2019 price target of just under $11.
The Bottom Line on SNAP Stock
Life as a public company has been a roller-coaster ride for SNAP stock. This wild ride may be ending soon. There are enough positive catalysts on the table to keep SNAP stock price from dropping much for the foreseeable future. At the same time, there are enough valuation risks to keep the stock from rallying much for the foreseeable future, too.
Thus, SNAP stock looks destined to trade sideways over the next several months and quarters. That would be an unusual – and perhaps welcome – break from the big swings this stock has made over the past two years.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long FB, GOOG, and PINS.