Sun 25 Sep, 2011 09:47 pm
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Every time Groupon revises its accounting to strip away another feat of financial gymnastics, the picture grows grimmer.
In a late-Friday regulatory filing, daily deals merchant Groupon updated its reported sales to "correct for an error" -- namely, including in its revenue the cash it has to hand back to merchants for their share of the coupons Groupon sells.
Strip away those payments, and the company's revenue numbers change radically.
For the first half of 2011, Groupon is now reporting revenue of $688 million -- a big drop from the $1.5 billion it claimed previously. For 2010, its last full year of operations, Groupon is now reporting sales of $313 million -- down from its previous $713 million.
For example, say a Groupon subscriber paid $10 for a coupon. The company might keep $5 of that and pass $5 on to the merchant. But Groupon was previously reporting all $10 as revenue.
The change didn't significantly affect Groupon's calculation of its earnings -- or, more accurately, its losses. The site said Friday that it had a net loss of $224 million in the first half of 2011.
This isn't the first time Groupon has had to back away from its accounting habits.
When Groupon filed in early June for its IPO, the company drew a barrage of criticism for its reliance on a nonstandard metric called "adjusted consolidated segment operating income." The unwieldy "ACSOI" stripped out Groupon's steep costs for marketing and acquiring new subscribers -- and it made a big difference in the numbers.
If they would have gone public several months ago like they wanted to a lot of folks would have been sucked in by the scam known as Groupon.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Shares of Groupon Inc fell for a third day on Wednesday, sinking below the company's initial public offering price of $20 less than three weeks after the daily deal company went public.
Groupon's shares fell 14.2 percent to $17.22 on Nasdaq, bringing its decline over the last three days to about 34 percent.
Groupon raised more than $700 million in an IPO in early November, making it the biggest IPO by a U.S. Internet company since Google Inc raised $1.7 billion in 2004.
Analysts have cited concerns about increased competition, a greater availability of the company's stock for short-selling, and a sharp reversal of market sentiment that is taking down more speculative companies.
"The momentum is negative now and it is likely to continue negative until they have something positive about the company," said Edward Woo, a Groupon analyst at Wedbush Morgan.
"There was a lot of negative sentiment heading into the IPO, the IPO surprised a lot of people, it was much stronger than expected," he said.
One reason for that strength was the fact that Groupon sold only about 6 percent of itself in the IPO, creating a scramble for the stock. It was one of the lowest floats of the past decade.
Hopefully A2K'ers listened to me, and so did not get taken in by the flim-flam.
Down to $16.85 currently in after hours...
Why Groupon is poised for collapse
Groupon was forced to restate fourth quarter earnings, sending its stock down 6% in after-hours trading. This surprised me as much as my $2 investment in the Mega Millions jackpot not paying off.
The reasons for Groupon’s restatement were higher refund reserves and weakness in internal controls. These are issues I’ve repeatedly discussed. I raised them directly with Groupon PR in September (back when they still would speak to me) and I was assured that refunds weren’t an issue for Groupon.
I also spoke with a former Groupon salesperson who claimed he was fired because he raised concerns about poor internal systems that didn’t track deals correctly and complaints about poor risk management when it comes to running deals.
So what’s happening at the coupon company?
Well, for starters, it’s not a coupon company nor a marketing company. At its core, Groupon’s U.S. business is a receivables factoring business, as I wrote last year. They give loans to small businesses at a very steep rate (the price of the discount plus Groupon’s commission). They get the money to fund these loans from credit card companies such as Chase Paymentech. Groupon is essentially a sub-prime lender that does zero risk assessment. And as word continues to spread about what a terrible deal running a Groupon is for many categories of businesses, the ones that will choose to run Groupons are the ones that are the most desperate. For U.S. based businesses, the only time I can definitely recommend running a Groupon is if it is otherwise going to go out of business.
Another factor is that Groupon is selling bigger and bigger deals and many of these have requirements for use. Some deals have medical qualifications. The former salesperson told me about Groupons for a procedure called “cool sculpting”. In this procedure, fat is frozen off the body. In order to get the treatment, patients must be medically qualified. But Groupon has no way of medically qualifying purchasers and will sell it to anyone. When they go to the doctor and find out that they aren’t eligible, they call Groupon for a refund. If this is several months later, after Groupon has paid out the entirety of what it owes the provider, this can mean a refund loss for Groupon.
Travel is another risky category for Groupon. Unlike Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Jetsetter and nearly every other major travel provider, Groupon does not require consumers to pick their dates and confirm availability at the time of purchase. When a consumer finds he can’t use his Groupon months later, he calls for a refund. Groupon also hides material restrictions on travel deals, something I pointed out in September and Groupon still hasn’t rectified.
Because these are higher ticket items that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, consumers are more likely to ask for a refund than on lower ticket items. In the short term, it means a revenue boost to Groupon, which the company needs as its once torrid growth cools. In the long term, it means refund losses.
The “Groupon Promise” is another risk factor. It’s an overly broad promise designed to allay consumers’ concern about using Groupons. Because it is so broad, it results in higher refund rates than would otherwise be the case.
Yet another concern is that Groupon does not track how much outstanding Groupon “debt” there is. No one in the world can tell you how many and how much Groupon value is outstanding. Unlike typical gift card sales, Groupon books revenue immediately and then does not show the Groupons on its balance sheet. By my estimates, Groupon has between $500 and $750 million in liabilities that it doesn’t show on its balance sheet.
In theory, Groupon’s exposure to that risk is covered by its refund reserves — but we don’t know the size of those reserves. And as yesterday’s restatement shows, the company’s calculated them poorly. Unless Groupon begins to do risk assessment on deals before they run, changes its payout terms to businesses, or drastically changes its refund policies, I expect refund rates to continue to rise. If they do any of those things, I expect revenue declines because it will make running Groupons less attractive to businesses and buying Groupons less attractive to consumers.
Groupon has also worked hard to hide its refund rates. While going through its S-1 process last year, Groupon continually revised its accounting. At one point, I discovered a way to calculate the company’s refund rates and found they had likely increased more than 40% year-over-year. In the next amendment to its S-1, Groupon changed its accounting again to bury that data.
Investors should also be concerned about the fact that Groupon’s lockup should end in early May, releasing a lot more shares onto the market. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Groupon trading in single digits after that and heading to zero within the next 36 months. Groupon’s best bet is if it can acquire its way into a sustainable business model; I’m doubtful that will happen considering the companies it has purchased to date.
With its restatement, Groupon said that its guidance for the first quarter remained the same as earlier. Given that its lockup should end shortly before it reports first quarter results, I would take that assessment with a mine full of salt.
You heard it from me first...
Groupon's stock tumbled Friday as insiders sold their shares after a post-IPO prohibition was lifted.
Employees and other insiders are required to wait before selling their stock following a company's initial public offering. Groupon's lock-up period expired on Friday. The company went public on Nov. 4.
Shares of Groupon Inc. fell 95 cents, or 8.9 percent, to close at $9.69 Friday. Earlier, the stock was trading as low as $9.53. That's the lowest since its IPO, which priced at $20.
Down, down, down goes Groupon......
Groupon’s stock price fell 7.7 percent Monday, putting its value at $5.8 billion — or slightly below the $6 billion that Google offered in its headline-grabbing but failed acquisition bid in December 2010.
The new low of $8.95 a share for the Chicago-based daily deals and local merchant software provider continued Groupon’s stock-price woes. Groupon’s stock fell 9 percent on Friday, when company insiders got their first shot at selling the stock.
After Groupon rejected Google’s bid, its leaders chose to go public. The stock debuted on the Nasdaq exchange on Nov. 4, 2011
and down down down goes Groupon stock....
Groupon is circling the toilet bowl. I called it.