Yelp is in a 'death spiral'

Jeremy Stoppelman yelp ceoEric Risberg/APYelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman.

On March 4, 2014, Yelp shares closed at $US98.04 a share.

On Wednesday, the stock was trading at $US24.

This 75% collapse has come quickly and furiously.

Just over a year ago, Goldman said its clients were asking when the “party was going to end” as shares of companies like Yelp and Facebook exploded higher during the first half of 2014.

For Facebook, the party hasn’t stopped. For Yelp, the party is definitely over.

In an email on Wednesday, Eric Jackson, a prominent tech investor, said that Yelp looks like it’s currently in a “death spiral” and that it’s hard to see how the company can pull itself out from here.

On Tuesday night, Yelp reported earnings that were a disappointment, but what really seems to be spooking investors, at least in Jackson’s view, is the resignation of Yelp chairman Max Levchin from the company’s board.

Here’s Jackson (emphasis added):

[Yelp’s] Chairman, Max Levchin, announced last night he was leaving the board to pursue other interests. Other interests? He’s been doing a fine job of that for the last few years while serving on the boards of Yelp and Yahoo. Does he really need to drop off the Yelp board — as Chair no less — to pursue those other interests? If he was going to drop off any board, why wouldn’t he take himself off the Yahoo board where he’s not Chair if this is just about freeing up more time?

Jackson argues, then, that Levchin’s departure seems to be about a fundamental disagreement between he and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman over whether the company should be sold or not. Yelp had not yet responded to a request for comment at the time of this publishing.

During the spring, reports said Yelp was exploring a sale, but earlier this month Bloomberg reported that the company had halted the process and would not sell itself. That report said the company had been approached by “several companies” but is no longer interested in selling.

Max Levchin cyclist cofounder PayPal Slide Glow Affirm CEO entrepreneur Silicon ValleyWil MatthewsMax Levchin, PayPal co-founder, avid cyclist, former Yelp chairman.

In a note to clients following Yelp’s report, analysts at SunTrust also noted the timing of Levchin’s departure — which they said make them “unnerved” — but were less direct than Jackson about drawing the line from 1 to 1.

Jackson also added that Tuesday marked the 4th straight quarter that Yelp’s earnings missed expectations, and that after its Q1 report in the spring reports first surfaced that the company wanted to sell.

Then, the stock was at $US37. Now it’s at $US24.

In its note, SunTrust highlighted other issues surrounding the company that led the firm to “reticently maintain” its “Buy” rating on the firm.

Among SunTrust’s concerns were Yelp’s apparent inability to hire salepersons (the company lowered its salesperson headcount growth target to 30% from 40%), which the firm noted was, “the first time we’ve heard of the hiring constraints.” SunTrust also noted that there is “less disclosure” at the company given that they will no longer report total unique visitors.

Either way: the stock is down 27% on Wednesday.

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