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LinkedIn shares dive more than 40 pct, $11 bln wiped out

By Supantha Mukherjee and Anya George Tharakan
The logo for LinkedIn Corporation, a social networking website for people in professional occupations, is pictured in Mountain View, California February 6, 2013. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

By Supantha Mukherjee and Anya George Tharakan (Reuters) - LinkedIn Corp's shares plunged as much as 43 percent on Friday, wiping out nearly $11 billion of market value, after the social network for professionals shocked Wall Street with a revenue forecast that fell far short of expectations. The stock sank to a three-year low of $109.50, registering its sharpest decline since the company's high-profile public listing in 2011. At least seven brokerages downgraded the stock from "buy" to "hold" or their equivalents, saying the company's lofty valuation was no longer justified. "With a lower growth profile, we believe that LinkedIn should not enjoy the premium multiple it has grown accustomed to," Mizuho Securities USA Inc analysts wrote in a note. The brokerage downgraded the stock to "neutral" and slashed its target price to $150 from $258. Raymond James, Cowen and Co, BMO Capital Markets, J.P.Morgan Securities, RBC Capital Markets and Suntrust Robinson also downgraded the stock. At least 22 brokerages cut their price targets, with RBC slashing its target by almost half to $156. LinkedIn forecast full-year revenue of $3.60-$3.65 billion, missing the average analyst estimate of $3.91 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. "This would imply that LinkedIn will grow around 15 percent in 2017 and 10 percent in 2018," the Mizuho analysts said. Underscoring the slowdown in growth, LinkedIn said online ad revenue growth slowed to 20 percent in the fourth quarter from 56 percent a year earlier. Adding fuel to the selloff was the release of the U.S. monthly jobs report, which showed employment gains slowed more than expected in January. LinkedIn's hiring business, called Talent Solutions, is the company's biggest unit by revenue. "It's not a great day to have reported tough guidance," said Randle Reece, an analyst with Avondale Partners LLC. "The mediocre employment report from the Labor department just amplified the reaction of anything employment sensitive today." RBC analysts said they had thought LinkedIn was on the cusp of "fundamentally positive" change. "We were wrong," they said in a client note. LinkedIn's disappointing forecast and a weak forecast from data analytics software maker Tableau Software Inc reverberated through the tech sector on Friday, sending the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> down nearly 3 percent. BLOATED VALUATIONS As of Thursday, LinkedIn shares were trading at 50 times forward 12-month earnings versus Twitter Inc's 29.5 times, Facebook Inc's 33.8 and Alphabet Inc's 20.9, making it one of the most expensive stocks in the tech sector. Even after the selloff, LinkedIn's shares may still be overvalued, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine data. LinkedIn should be trading at $71.79, a 34 percent discount to the stock's Friday's low of $109.50 as of 1341 ET, according to StarMine's Intrinsic Valuation model, which takes analysts' five-year estimates and models the growth trajectory over a longer period. LinkedIn has been spending heavily on expansion by buying companies, hiring sales personnel and growing outside the United States, but is now facing pressure in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific due to macro-economic issues. "Given those macro concerns and LinkedIn's recent execution issues, we expect investors will demand financial outperformance before there is meaningful recovery in LNKD's multiple," Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a client note. Up to Thursday's close, LinkedIn stock had already lost nearly a quarter of its value in the last three months. (Corrects paragraph 19 to say LinkedIn should be trading at "a 34 percent discount to the stock's Friday's low of $109.50 as of 1341 ET", not "a 35 percent discount to the stock's Friday's low of $75.54". The error also appeared in an earlier version of the story) (Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee and Tenzin Pema in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)