Snap ‘is between a lot of hard rocks,’ but Facebook and Google may be safer investments, analysts say

Are Snap Inc.’s problems of its own making or reflective of broader challenges in the digital-advertising space?

With Snap shares

down 15% in premarket trading Wednesday after another disappointing earnings report, that’s the key question yet again—especially as rivals Meta Platforms Inc.

and Alphabet Inc.


prepare to post their own results Wednesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon, respectively.

The Snapchat parent company called out a “difficult operating environment” in a shareholder letter accompanying the report, noting that factors such as “macroeconomic headwinds, platform policy changes, and increased competition” weighed on results in the past year.

Chief Executive Evan Spiegel added on the earnings call that Snap’s direct-response advertising business did grow in the latest quarter, though the company is also dealing with some growing pains as it works to improve this part of the business.

Direct-response advertising refers to getting quick reactions from users and potential customers, in contrast to brand advertising, which marketers use to shape the broader perception of their companies over the long run.

Opinion: Snap stock has lost the one thing it had going for it

Bernstein analyst Mark Shmulik likened Snap to a “snow globe in a snowstorm.”

“While Snap scrambles to build a competitive performance marketing ad product, it barely registers as progress against the heavy revenue headwinds driving the company into ex-growth territory,” he wrote.

In Snap’s investor letter, the company noted that year-over-year revenue was off 7% to start 2023, and the company’s internal forecast is for a 2% to 10% revenue decline for the first quarter.

The rebuild of Snap’s direct-response product have weighed on performance to start the year, but it’s “unclear if an improving product can offset continued brand spend softness,” Shmulik wrote. He rates the stock at market perform and cut his price target by a buck to $9.

Piper Sandler analyst Thomas Champion titled his note to clients: “Macro Remains A Tough Slog.”

“Changes to the ad product may be layering on to a challenged macro environment,” he wrote. Recent job cuts represent “a positive step and commitment to operating rigor,” but stock-based compensation is still “elevated.”

He rates the stock at neutral with a $9 target price.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Brad Erickson thinks Snap will remain a market-share “donator” given a lack of “visibility to performance improvement or other monetization offsets.”

“Once again (and in some ways more than ever), we believe SNAP’s reporting a…decelerating ad business demonstrates that its issues are company-specific and not macro-related with management saying its impression of overall ad spend hasn’t gotten worse (implying since last qtr),” Erickson wrote.

Ahead of Meta’s Wednesday afternoon report, he gets an “in-line” read through from Snap, noting Snap’s comments on how the ad environment didn’t seem to worsen and also highlighting Meta’s “low” exposure to brand spending. For Alphabet, the read throughs are “in-line/better given depressed sentiment.”

He titled his report “IdioSnapCratic” as he maintained a sector-perform rating and $10 target price.

Evercore ISI analyst Mark Mahaney, meanwhile, saw a “negative” read through for other digital-ad companies, though he acknowledged that “many of the issues at play are Snap-specific.”

“Industry datapoints and channel checks had pretty clearly suggested ad revenue softening throughout Q4 and into Q1, so SNAP’s results aren’t perhaps too surprising,” he wrote. But at the same time, Snap is being impacted by its exposure to brand advertising, its status as a “2nd tier ad platform” in a world of budget rationalizations, and its changes to its direct-response product.

“SNAP is between a lot of hard rocks right now,” he wrote, meaning the challenges for big ad players Meta and Google “are likely to be notably less severe,” while the problems for smaller Pinterest Inc.

“are likely to be modestly less severe than they are for SNAP.”

Mahaney has an in-line rating and $12 target price on Snap’s stock.

Meta shares are off 1.5% in premarket trading Wednesday, while Alphabet’s are down 0.4%. Pinterest shares are off 2.6%.