The headline from one of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry vigilante cop dramas sums up the current zeitgeist among stock jocks and SoFi Technologies (NASDAQ:SOFI) stock.
I’ve had one concern up to 2022, the amount of marketing dollars that the company spent as it vacuumed up venture capital and how that distorted its underlying business model.
I’m an old school guy, and when you splash $400 million for a 20 year deal to buy naming rights to a stadium when you’re not even publicly traded, it’s an unsettling thing.
Granted, after SOFI stock’s late November IPO in 2020, it soared to from around $10 a share to $25 in less than two months. But its stock chart is a series of peaks and valleys since then.
And now it’s in a valley wider and deeper than any before it. Yet it miraculously maintains a $8 billion market cap.
SOFI Stock Is at a Turing Point
Recently, Chris Lau wrote a well-researched piece on SOFI. Don’t be scared off by the title, it lays out some of the challenges and some of the opportunities that await the stock and the company.
As someone with deep knowledge of the financial technology (aka, fintech) space, SOFI is a company that many smaller fintechs look to admiringly. There’s no doubt it started with a clear opportunity to change the student loan paradigm once and for all.
And due to its efforts, it has done that, as much as Chime or Revolut has changed the mobile banking space.
But when the venture capital firms have you in their talons, success breeds a distorted view of reality. And $400 million deals for stadium naming rights is indicative of a board with bigger ambitions than the founders had.
Yet this isn’t always a bad thing. SOFI has been able to move strategically into the neobank space. And instead of trying to attract depositors, it took the opposite approach. It started with loans.
Loans Are Where It’s At
In the banking industry, you make money two ways fundamentally. You make money from fees – account fees, service fees, overdraft fees, etc. And you make money from loans.
You also make money off the money that’s sitting around for reserve requirements and other cash beyond reserves, but that’s not the lion’s share.
The big money in traditional banks is loan revenue. The math is simple: The bank borrows at a low rate and lends money out at a higher rate.
In a low rate, low growth economy, it’s tough for regional and community banks to make that work well. When rates rise however, banks have more latitude lend at more advantageous margins.
SOFI started with student loans but began to expand its loan portfolio. And when it landed a bank charter earlier this year, that was a significant step in growing into a full-fledged financial institution – with digital DNA.
SOFI has blended the best of fintech’s national reach with customer-driven community bank feel. The big banks have been trying to solve this problem by working in the opposite direction.
The Cost of Being Unique
The main reason SOFI stock has been languishing is that the Biden administration has been quietly working on eliminating some student loan debt by delaying interest payments and other measures.
Of course, the reactionary market freaks out – selectively mind you – about these things. And in this case, it has decided that SOFI stock is the poster child for the worst-case scenario.
The fact is, even if the student debt is cancelled, it simply means the government will pay off the lenders in full. The banks won’t be suffering any losses. They will likely have less defaults on their books if that happens.
That’s cold comfort for SOFI stock.
How Lucky Do You Feel
This is where we have to heed Mark Twain’s observation about “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” This isn’t yet a company where the statistics lead to a clear conclusion.
Some stats look very encouraging. Others, not so much.
Add to that after falling 39% year to date, nearly landing it where it IPO’d, it still has nearly 25% short interest against it. That means nearly 25% of the stock’s investors are betting for a further decline.
It’s tough to issue a “back up the truck and buy” signal. Nor is a “run for your lives” sell signal the way to go.
My best assessment is, with all the big money backing it, SOFI stock will recover. But you need patience and a some ice in your veins for the ride.
On the date of publication, GS Early did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.
GS Early has been an award-winning financial writer and editor for nearly three decades, working with many of the leading financial editors during that time. He’s seen a few things and hears more.