Zynga beats Q1 earnings estimates

Zynga reported first quarter earnings of 6 cents a share, beating analyst estimates for the social game company’s second-ever earnings announcement.

The publisher of social games such as FarmVille reported non-GAAP net income of $47 million on revenues of $321 million, compared with net income of $75 million on revenues of $242 million a year earlier. The company foresees 2012 earnings per share of 23 cents to 29 cents a share.

Zynga’s stock price has been falling in recent days in advance of the company’s first quarter earnings report today. Analysts expected the company to report earnings of 5 cents a share on revenue of $316.8 million for the first quarter ended March 31. On AppData, Zynga has 281.6 million monthly active users and all five of the top five games.

Bookings for the quarter were $329 million, up 15 percent from a year ago and up 7 percent from the previous quarter. On a GAAP basis, Zynga reported a net loss of $85 million, compared with net income of $16.7 million a year ago. The loss was due to stock-based expenses.

In after-hours trading, Zynga’s stock is flat at $9.42 a share. Earlier in the day, the stock rose 3.4 percent.

During the quarter, Zynga grew both daily active and monthly active users. It has eight of the top 10 games on Facebook and leads in two new genres, hidden object games and arcade games, with Hidden Chronicles and Slingo, respectively. Mobile games grew due to strength in Zynga Poker, Draw Something, and Scramble with Friends.

Monthly active users were 292 million users, up 24 percent from 236 million a year ago. Daily active users were 65 million, up from 62 million a year ago. Monthly unique users were 182 million, up from 146 million a year ago. Daily average bookings per average DAU were 5.5 cents in the first quarter, compared with 5.1 cents a year ago. Unique monthly payers were 3.5 million, up from 2.9 million in the previous quarter.

Zynga launched six games in the quarter: Hidden Chronicles, Zynga Slingo, Scramble With Friends on mobile, Dream PetHouse on mobile, Dream Heights on mobile, and Draw Something (acquired along with OMGPOP for$180 million-plus). Zynga raised $1 billion in a December initial public offering and has lessened its dependence on Facebook with the launch of Zynga.com.

Zynga projected that 2012 bookings will be $1.425 billion to $1.5 billion, with growth weighted to the second half of the year. Adjusted earnings before income, tax, and depreciation expense is expected to be $400 million to $450 million. Stock-based expense is expected to be $420 million to $445 million. Capital expenses are expected to be $390 million to $410 million, including the purchase in April of the company’s corporate headquarters. Non-GAAP earnings per share are expected to be 23 cents to 29 cents.

Here’s what some of the analysts who follow Zynga closely had expected before the announcement:

Colin Sebastian, an analyst at Baird Equity Research, said in a note that he expects results to be in line or slightly below estimates of a profit of 6 cents a share for the quarter.

He noted recently that Facebook said Zynga accounted for 11 percent of its revenues in the first quarter, down from 12 percent in the fourth quarter. Zynga pays about 30 percent of revenues to Facebook as a fee for Facebook Credits transactions, not counting advertising. That suggests Zynga’s net bookings were around $230 million in the quarter. The company also probably generated $65 million in ad bookings. He noted that Zynga games continue to dominate the charts on Facebook, accounting for eight of the top 10 games in daily average users. On iOS, Zynga has six of the top 100 grossing apps and eight of the top 100 on Android.

“While Zynga continues to dominate Facebook games and is making solid progress on mobile platforms, we believe that slower growth on Facebook limits upside to estimates near term,” Sebastian said.

Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities, also said he expects results to be in-line with expectations. Pachter increased estimates for the fiscal year to reflect the acquisition of OMGPOP, which has a hit game in Draw Something on iOS. For the full year, he expects bookings of $1.35 billion to $1.45 billion and non-GAAP earnings per share of 24 cents to 28 cents.

He expects Zynga shares to hit $17 in the coming year.

Atul Bagga, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets, said in a note that he expects a profit of 4 cents per share on revenue of $315.6 million. He thinks Zynga has had a strong reception for its Hidden Chronicles and Slingo games and improved the monetization of CastleVille. Mafia Wars may be underperforming as a franchise, while Zynga Poker, CityVille, and FarmVille are stable.

He expects guidance for the full year to be raised from the $1.35 – $1.45 billion range to something higher. Bagga believes the stock has been falling based on fears that Zynga will make more (seemingly unwise) acquisitions, but he thinks those fears are overblown. His long-term target for the stock is $16 a share.

In the previous fourth quarter, Zynga reported non-GAAP earnings per share of five cents, or $37.1 million, for the quarter. 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.