New York — The company behind Snapchat closed on a high note in its Wall Street debut, proof, at least for a day, that there’s investor demand for young but still unproven tech companies.
Shares of Snap Inc. jumped $7.58, or 44 percent, to close at $24.48 on Thursday.
The company had priced its initial public offering of 200 million shares at $17 each on Wednesday. That was above the expected range of $14 to $16.
Snap’s IPO was one of the most anticipated for a technology company since Twitter’s in 2013. That, in turn, had created the biggest stir since Facebook made its debut on Wall Street in 2012. Twitter is now valued at $11 billion, while Facebook is $395 billion. Snap’s closing price Thursday valued the Los Angeles company at $34 billion.
Snapchat is best known for disappearing messages and quirky face-filters for jazzing up selfies. It’s popular with young people, but growth has slowed in recent months. That has investors wondering whether the company will end up more like Twitter, with its troubles attracting users and declining stock price, or Facebook, with soaring user numbers and stock price.
Thursday’s surge on Wall Street shows that there is initial investor excitement about Snap, but it’s not guaranteed to last. Twitter, for one, soared initially after its IPO, but now trades 39 percent below its IPO price. Facebook, meanwhile, struggled initially but has since more than tripled its IPO price.
“Snap presents investors with the opportunity to invest in the company behind an innovative, large-scale, and distinctively young-skewing platform,” said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research Group LLC. “Unfortunately, it is significantly overvalued given the likely scale of its long-term opportunity and the risks associated with executing against that opportunity.” He gives Snap a sell rating.
David Kirkpatrick, chief executive officer of Techonomy Media, said in an interview, “There is a huge amount of people who really just want to get in on the hot new thing, who see this as the first opportunity of its type in a number of years.” Still, he said, “they’ve got some serious work to do to actually make a real business that makes profits.”
The company also needs to convince investors to put their complete trust in its management: It listed non-voting shares, the first company to do so in the U.S., according to its deal filing. That means stockholders will have no sway over things like director nominations and executive compensation, and they won’t be able to bring matters before the annual meeting. Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel and co-founder Bobby Murphy will be responsible for the decisions that lead to Snap’s success — or on the hook for its mistakes.
Snap, which posted a net loss last year of $515 million, even as revenue climbed almost sevenfold, has some things to prove. It needs to continue to increase revenue per user, address slower user growth — which fell below 50 percent in the fourth quarter for the first time since at least 2014 — and inch closer to profitability.
Its advertising model is still evolving, with many brands using the platform to experiment with one-off campaigns before committing to longer term spending. While the advertising business has been built up from nothing in about two years, advertisers have said that the ad-buying process is still overly complicated. They’re also concerned about only being able to access a narrow demographic through Snap — its core user group of teens and twenty-somethings.
Facebook, with about 1.2 billion active daily users on its flagship platform and 1.2 billion on its messaging tool WhatsApp, trades at a multiple of about 10.5 times revenue estimates for this year. Facebook’s Instagram introduced a video-reel feature — similar to Snapchat’s stories — that already has 150 million daily users. That’s in line with Snap’s daily active count of about 158 million.
Facebook priced shares in its IPO at the top end of the proposed range in May 2012, then following a first-day trading technology glitch the stock climbed less than 1 percent and languished for more than a year. Once the company’s strategy of betting on mobile software started to pay off and revenue and profit exceeded estimates, it surged.
Twitter, with more than 300 million monthly active users, comes in at 4.8 times projected revenue. The social media site had an impressive debut, then proceeded to stumble as user growth slowed.
Snap faces what those companies faced, with one proven product to date under its belt.