LinkedIn “Meets” Earnings Expectations…Much Joy in Socialville

Full disclosure: I have a modest short position in LNKD.

LinkedIn (LNKD) announced that they met Thomson Reuters analysts’ expectations for earnings at $0.16 per share this quarter. In addition, second quarter revenue at $228.2 million, beat analysts’ expectations of $215.7 million. The stock is currently up over 12% on that news.

Then there is the pesky bit about profits and cash flows; you know, those items that compensate investors for allocating capital to a firm. Net income was $2.8 million, down 38% from the same quarter a year ago. Why? Well it seems earnings took a big hit when executives congratulated themselves with large option and stock payouts this quarter compared with one year ago. In fact, the $0.16 EPS figure was a non-GAAP measure.

When taking executive comp in stock and options into account, EPS was actually $0.03. The company would like investors to look the other way on the latter number. I would too if I just confiscated 81% of my firm’s profits in the quarter.

If we extrapolate these best-ever quarterly revenue numbers over a whole year, then LNKD is trading for 10.6 times sales (it is actually trading at 15 times TTM sales). LNKD has a market capitalization of nearly $10 billion. In order for LNKD to turn itself into the next growth story like Apple and bring its price-to-sales ratio in line with Apple’s very high 3.8 multiple, LNKD would have to almost double its sales. In order to bring that multiple in line with the rest of the large-cap market, it would have to increase sales 768% (almost 8 times!!!!).

Don’t get me wrong, I like LinkedIn’s services. I am already contemplating abandoning Outlook contacts. But, aren’t all unemployed professionals already on LinkedIn? Where is growth going to come from?

Then there are the other pesky metrics. Trailing PE of 952. Forward PE of 152 (not including the 38% decline in profits). Price-to-cash flow multiple of about 100. Price-to-book of about 100. And, a 2% net profit margin after management takes its exorbitant cut. If you are an investor in LNKD and don’t know who the mark is at this poker table, it is you.

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