Results that were less than awful and a new CEO helped shares of Zynga Inc. (ZNGA) and Groupon Inc. (GRPN) to move up from abysmal lows. However, neither company has made meaningful progress against competition and poor business models. Neither is likely to ever stage a complete recovery.
At $3, Zynga's stock appears to have recovered, at least based on prices over the past year. However, a look back a bit further shows that the shares reached well above $14 in early 2012. The trajectory of Groupon's shares is similar. Despite a furious increase in share price from $3 to more than $10 in the past year, in late 2011 it was a $25 stock.
Zynga's earnings can be broken into two pieces. Its financial results were better than Wall Street expected on both the top and bottom lines last quarter. However, the company said it would not pursue online gaming in the Unites States, which many viewed as the primary engine for a full recovery. Zynga can still brag that it has three of the top ten games on Facebook Inc. (FB), but those numbers are eroding. New CEO Don Mattrick has pushed Zynga's focus more toward mobile devices, following Facebook in that same direction. The decision is just enough for investors to hold onto. But, at its foundation, Zynga has a business model trapped it its reliance on Facebook and undermined by an army of free games that have flooded the mobile market.
New Groupon CEO, Eric Lefkofsky, thrilled Wall Street with better quarterly results than expected. He also spoke the magic words. Groupon will become more a mobile e-commerce company than a broken down coupon one. Groupon will be a starting place for shoppers, which would make it akin to Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and not some bolt-on way for online shoppers to get better deals on goods and services already for sale. It was a muddy distinction. Investors liked it enough to drive shares up 20%. But a muddy distinction is no replacement for sharp increases in sales based on being able to beat off dozens of Groupon imitators that have nearly eaten it alive.
Companies are often no better than their most recent quarterly results, at least as far as investors are concerned. Nothing in the articulated plans of Groupon and Zynga should give heart to long-term investors.