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Don’t Turn Up the Volume on Pandora Media Inc Stock

Tom Taulli

While last year was quite bullish for tech operators, there were some notable exceptions. Just look at Pandora Media Inc (NYSE:P). The company had an awful 2017, with the shares plunging 62%.

Unfortunately, things haven’t improved much in the new year, either. Note that P stock is already off about 5%.

It seems there could be a disconnect for online music as a must-have for smartphones. Keep in mind that Pandora remains the largest streaming audio service in the U.S. in terms of listeners and advertisers. Over the years, it has also evolved its database, which includes more than 85 billion elements of feedback. Oh, and yes, Pandora has an extensive distribution footprint, with access in more than 2,000 types of devices.

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In terms of resources, Pandora looks fine. Back in early June, the company snagged a $480 million strategic investment from Sirius XM Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:SIRI). SIRI CEO had this to say: “Pandora’s large user base and its ability to provide listeners with a personalized music experience are tremendous assets. With its strong technology and new product offerings, we believe there are exciting opportunities for Pandora to accelerate its growth and increase value for Pandora and SiriusXM stockholders.”

All great, right? Certainly. But why then the horrific performance of P stock? Well, there are a variety of reasons — all of which will be tough to resolve. In fact, during the latest earnings call, Pandora CEO Roger Lynch was quite honest about the challenges.

So let’s take a look:

P Stock Challenge No. 1: Competitive Environment

Pandora must fight against many tough rivals, like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Spotify. Many of them also do not have to rely directly on music-related revenues. In other words, they can take a low-cost approach.

The upcoming initial public offering of Spotify will also likely weigh on P stock. The main reason is that the company will get much more attention — at least in the short-run. This will not only be from listeners but also investors.

P Stock Challenge No. 2: Product Problems

Pandora has been too focused on music content. Let’s face it, the company has not put much resources in providing other offerings, such as podcasts, interviews, news and so on. If anything, this has probably resulted in lower engagement.

Now the company is taking steps to increase non-music content. And yes, SIRI will probably be helpful. But the process will likely take time.

P Stock Challenge No. 3: Deteriorating Metrics

Pandora’s key numbers are going in the wrong direction. During the latest quarter, the company’s service attracted 93 million users but only 73.7 million were MAUs (Monthly Active Users). In other words, there is a general lack of engagement.

And something else: The overall user base has been declining. For the past year, the active number of listeners went from 79.4 million to 76.7 million.

As a result, the top-line has been feeling lots of pressure — and this is likely to continue. Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) analyst Benjamin Swinburne recently downgraded P stock, noting: “Growing ad revenue in ’18 is no longer a given as Pandora faces engagement and monetization challenges. We thought Pandora could potentially reach 10% advertising growth in ’18. However, we now expect 2017 to show a nearly 15% decline in listening hours, an over 5% decline in ad supported monthly active users, and slower growth in advertising ARPU. This leads us to lower our outlook for ’18 ad growth, now forecasting flat to up modestly.”

Bottom Line on P Stock

Lynch certainly has the right background to get Pandora back on track. Prior to taking the helm during the summer, he was the founding CEO of Sling TV — where he helped to innovate the video streaming market — and also served as an executive at DISH Network Corp (NASDAQ:DISH).

Yet the restructuring of P is not a short-term effort. It could easily take several years. As Lynch has indicated, there is “no silver bullet that’s going to come in and solve these problems.”

So for investors, in light of all this, there’s really no reason to rush to buy the shares for now.

Tom Taulli is the author of High-Profit IPO StrategiesAll About Commodities and All About Short SellingFollow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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