GamesBeat

Zynga beats earnings estimates for its first-ever quarterly report as a public company

Social game maker Zynga reported a modest profit for the fourth-quarter in its first-ever quarter financial report today.

The non-GAAP earnings per share were five cents, or $37.1 million, for the quarter. The largest publisher of social games on Facebook was expected to report a profit of 3 cents a share, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

The company reported fourth-quarter bookings of $306.5 million, up 26 percent from a year ago and 7 percent from the third quarter. Full-year bookings were $1.16 billion, up 38 percent from a year ago. Full-year revenue was $1.14 billion, up 91 percent.

Quarterly revenues were expected to be $302.4 million, up 54 percent from $195.8 million a year ago. On a GAAP basis, Zynga reported a loss of $435 million on revenues of $311.2 million for the fourth quarter. The reason for the big difference between the GAAP and non-GAAP numbers is a non-cash expense of $510 million in stock-based compensation for restricted stock that was issued to employees and previously unrecognized until triggered by the initial public offering in December.

For 2012, Zynga said it expects its bookings to be in the range of $1.35 billion to $1.45 billion, with slower sequential growth in the first half of the year and more bookings in the second half.

Adjusted earnings before income tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) is expected to be $390 million to $440 million. Stock-based compensation expense is expected to be $400 million to $425 million. Capital expenditures are expected to be $140 million to $160 million.

Zynga said that its adjusted EBITDA for the fourth quarter was $67.8 million, down 34 percent from a year ago due to increased investment in new games.

Zynga has been launching one social or mobile game after another in the past few months; the company said it launched 12 games in 2011, including four on web-based platforms and eight on mobile. The company now has 246.3 million monthly active users on Facebook, compared with 230 million when the company went public on Dec. 15. Zynga’s newest game, Hidden Chronicles, is a big hit, with more than 29.6 million monthly active users. Thanks to that game’s success, Zynga once again has the top five social games on Facebook.

The company is trading under the symbol ZNGA. Its stock price opened at $10 a share and then fell immediately after the IPO. But after Facebook filed for an IPO earlier this month, Zynga’s stock climbed quickly and closed on Monday at $13.42 a share, well above the 12-month targets of several analysts who follow the company closely. Today, the stock closed before the report was issued at $14.35 a share, up 6.95 percent. It is down 3.7 percent in after-hours trading at $13.82 a share.

Arvind Bhatia, an analyst with Sterne Agee, wrote in a research report on Monday that Zynga’s stock is overvalued with its market capitalization at $9.38 billion. The company faces stiff competition on Facebook from Electronic Arts, Wooga, King.com, Disney-Playdom, and a host of others. Zynga has also moved into mobile games but faces an even bigger array of rivals there.

The bears on Zynga say that its cost of acquiring new users is rising and its competition is heating up. They say that Zynga’s growth will slow as Facebook hits a wall. But the bulls such as Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities say that Zynga has a lot of opportunity to expand as it diversifies beyond Facebook, moves into mobile, and grows its advertising revenue, which is a mere 5 percent of the company’s revenues. Almost all of Zynga’s money comes from Facebook games, and most of its revenues are generated by virtual goods purchases.

“The results were in line, guidance was actually very good, but the comment about it being back-end loaded caused the stock to pull back a bit,” said Pachter, after the earnings came out. “I am a little disappointed that they didn’t guide to Q1, so there will probably be continued volatility for a while.”

Colin Sebastian, an analyst at R.W. Baird, said Zynga has had a good start as a public company, beating expectations for Q4 revenues and earnings.

“Zynga still has some challenges ahead as the growth in paying users continues to moderate,” he said.  “But the company’s relationship with Facebook, pipeline of new games, and increasing presence on smart platforms should drive another year of solid 20 percent or better growth. It also appears that Q1 is off to a good start – with Castleville and Hidden Chronicles both performing quite well.”

Atul Bagga, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets, said the quarter seemed “pretty strong” with revenue and earnings per share coming in above expectations. User numbers and other metrics were also up in the quarter, so he continues to believe Zynga has a large opportunity just by growing monetization, mobile users, and international revenue and by expanding onto new platforms.

Zynga has been active. Last week, it announced that toymaker Hasbro would produce co-branded toys based on Zynga’s most popular games and game characters. As we chronicled in our in-depth history of the company, Zynga has come a long way since Pincus founded the company as Presidio Media on April 19, 2007. At the time, Pincus wanted to jump on the Facebook bandwagon as that company took its shot at beating rival network MySpace by inviting third parties to make applications to run on the Facebook platform. Now the company has a huge share of the fast-growing market on Facebook, accounting for 12 percent of Facebook’s revenue.

More recently, Zynga took a lot of flak for copying others’ games. That prompted Mark Pincus, chief executive of the company, to tell us in an interview that the company is pioneering a new wave of games not by copying others but by making games easier to play and more social.

In the third quarter ended Sept. 30, Zynga reported net income of $12.5 million, down 54 percent from $27 million a year ago.

For the fourth quarter, Zynga said that its daily active users increased from 48 million in the fourth quarter a year ago to 54 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, up 13 percent. Monthly active users were 240 million in the fourth quarter, up 23 percent from a year ago.


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