Will Zynga's earnings quiet the skeptics?

The online gaming company is expected to report a profit Tuesday, which may allay concerns about its potential.

By Benzinga Feb 13, 2012 7:36PM

Image: Couple with laptop (© Daly and Newton/OJO Images/Getty Images)By Michael Foster, Benzinga Staff Writer

All eyes will be on Zynga (ZNGA) Tuesday as the company is expected to report a fourth-quarter profit of 3 cents per share on revenue of $301 million.

As tech companies go, these numbers are tiny. However, positive earnings are impressive for such a young company. Zynga's strong numbers have encouraged some investors even as its dependence on the Facebook platform has inspired skepticism.

The video game startup went public in December to a great deal of market scorn, and the stock seemed fated for disaster when it hit a low of $8 in January just as the Nasdaq was rising. Since then, the company's shares have skyrocketed and, at Monday's closing price of $13.42, are up more than 40% from opening day. Much of those gains were realized in February, with the stock rising over 27% since Feb. 1.

Expectations are mixed. Many analysts give an "overweight" or "buy" rating to the stock, but the stock passed analysts' mean target of $11.43 days ago. The most recent analyst report on the company, by Sterne Agee, gives an "underperform" rating with expectations of $304 million in EBITDA, adjusted to $65 million.

The analysts are especially concerned that the company cannot monetize its mobile games, which are an increasing part of the its revenue stream. Sterne Agee analysts hold a $7 price target, far below the mean target and nearly 50% below the stock's current value.

The market disagrees with this bearish perspective, as the recent rally shows. High volumes have driven the jump, with the company seeing over 59 million shares traded on Feb. 2, when the stock jumped 16.8% on the previous day's close, when only 6.3 million shares traded hands.

Volumes have since subsided, but the stock is still going upwards as investors anticipate the company's earnings release. Investors may also be excited at the prospect that Zynga's close connection to Facebook may inspire the social media giant to buy the company.

Others still may be expecting Zynga to ride Facebook's wave after that company goes public. If shares in Facebook rise after the company's IPO, a Zynga lift will very likely follow. At any rate, a rise in Zynga may be fueled by anticipation of Facebook going public sometime in spring.

Analysts have had difficulties understanding the relationship between the companies. At first, Zynga appeared to be riding on Facebook's coattails, since its games were originally offered solely on the Facebook platform. However, the recent news that Zynga accounts for 12% of Facebook's revenue reminds us that the benefits go both ways.

The symbiosis between both companies is fueling protracted hope in a new Web boom. Still, other companies haven't fared so well. LinkedIn (LNKD) is still trading at nearly double its $45 IPO price, but shares have fallen after topping $100 last summer. Dice Holdings (DHX) is down more than 43% since its IPO a year ago, and Groupon (GRPNrecently fell on a quarterly loss of 2 cents per share, below analysts' estimates of earnings of 3 cents per share.

Strong earnings could help Zynga fight the tide of recent tech IPOs, but it will need to maintain strong momentum over the next few months until Facebook's IPO. That may not be difficult with so many eyes on the company, unless surprising bad news shocks the system when Zynga's earnings are released Tuesday.

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