Groupon’s restatement doesn’t add up

Chicago-based investment research firm Morningstar can’t make the numbers in Groupon’s restatement add up. In a research note it sent to clients, who are institutional investors, it wrote:

While several of the financial revisions seem inconsistent, we were surprised by the ratio of revenues to gross billings in our review of the restatement. As it stands, revenues were revised down by $14 million, primarily due to allowances for refund reserves. Gross billings, which represent the amounts invoiced to end customers, were revised down by $17 million. Although the revision amount is reasonably small, this revision implies a take rate of approximately 84% for Groupon for these specific transactions, while the overall take rate for the company is closer to 40%. We acknowledge there may be other items in this revision, but management has yet to address other changes.

If anything, I would expect the take rates for many of these transactions to be lower (in the 20% to 30% range) and certainly not higher. That is because merchants with higher transaction amounts and national merchants have the leverage to negotiate a better deal.

Morningstar would also like Groupon to break out some of its financials:

Given the restatement, we believe management has been given a great opportunity to explain the differences in Groupon’s product lines. Clearly, the company has moved beyond its original promise of local advertising by offering national deals, travel, and goods at deep discounts. We would expect marketing strategy and economics of these deals to differ substantially from the more traditional local deals business, and aggregated financial results provide more confusion than clarity for investors.

That’s an important point and one that I’ve been making frequently. The various categories of deals perform differently. Although analysts (including me) frequently refer to a 50/50 split with small businesses on Groupon revenues, Groupon’s share can vary dramatically when it comes to national deals or liquidation inventory like Groupon Goods.

As Groupon found, more expensive deals like travel can also have higher refund costs. By lumping all of these together, it’s hard for outsiders to assess the state of the business. Groupon also lumps together revenue from Asia and Europe, which are very different markets. Expansion in Asia, while necessary, means much smaller revenue shares for Groupon.

As Groupon’s core daily deals business in the U.S. has stagnated, Groupon has told investors that products like travel and goods are the growth engines for the company. It makes sense that they should break them out.

Groupon closed down at $14.54, a new all-time low in trading on NASDAQ. Groupon spokeswoman Julie Mossler declined to comment on the Morningstar report.

Rocky Agrawal is an analyst focused on the intersection of local, social and mobile. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He blogs at http://blog.agrawals.org; and tweets at @rakeshlobster.

[Top image credit: Kurhan/Shutterstock]

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