Traders work at the New York Stock Exchange kiosk where Pandora Media shares… (Brendan McDermid, Reuters )
Shares of Pandora Media Inc. rocketed nearly 63% in the initial hours of the stock's debut on the New York Stock Exchange, but subsequently fell back to Earth as concerns set in over the company's ability to reverse its string of losses and eventually turn a profit.
The stock, which was priced at $16 on Tuesday night, traded as high as $26 early Wednesday but lost much of its gain throughout the day, closing at $17.42 for a modest 8.9% first-day gain.
"Investors had their initial emotional flush with the stock," said David Menlow, head of IPOfinancial.com in Millburn, N.J. "Then they got a strong dose of reality."
With Pandora, the reality lay in its earnings. The personalized Internet radio company in Oakland, Calif., racked up $46.7 million in total losses its last three fiscal years. It lost an additional $6.8 million in its first quarter, which ended April 30, on $51million in revenue, 86% of which came from advertising.
Pandora has no problem attracting listeners: It has 90million registered customers, 34 million of whom use the service at least once a month. But it has had difficulty picking up enough revenue from advertisers and listeners to cover the royalties it pays for the music.
"This company touches a lot of consumers," said Ben Holmes, head of MorningNotes, a research firm that focuses on initial public offerings. "At the end of the day, however, the company is losing money. They need to turn the corner."
Last year, Pandora paid $69.4 million in royalties, roughly half of its revenue. The fees are based on how much its users listen to the licensed music — the more they listen, the more Pandora has to pay.
"The bulk of their costs are fixed relative to the adding of new users," Menlow said. "So they're not able to get any benefits of scale."
Pandora's shares also debuted on a day when the overall stock market took a big hit, with the Dow Jones index of blue-chip stocks dropping nearly 179 points.
Joe Kennedy, Pandora's chief executive, told Bloomberg on Wednesday that his company sees chances to grow its share of the radio advertising business, as well as mobile and online ads, as it pushes its service into cars and home entertainment systems.
"Today we have 3% of all radio listening that's happening in this country," he said. "We see the opportunity to provide a great service to more and more people."
Pandora's tepid debut does not necessarily bode ill for other IPOs expected to hit this year, including Zynga Inc. and Facebook Inc. Investors are still looking forward to Zynga, whose profit margins are said to be as high as 40%, Menlow said.
"Investors are currently still giving high valuations for these Internet-related companies," he said. "But that now depends on the business model."