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Everyone seems to love Shopify (NASDAQ: SHOP ) stock. Call me an old fogey, but I don't get it.
At its market cap of $17 billion, investors are paying roughly 17 times expected 2018 revenue. There is an awesome growth rate of roughly 30% on the top line, but profits remain stubbornly out of sight, and analysts don't expect any this quarter, a loss of six cents per share on revenue of $314 million.
Shopify did have positive operating cash flow in its September quarter, but at $2.86 million that's nearly a rounding error. The bulk of its rising cash flow still comes from investment and financing.
But analysts still love the stock. There are now 29 following it, and 16 have it on their buy lists. They're expecting 71 cents per share of earnings for 2019.
I suspect they will be disappointed, as they have been disappointed by past Canadian tech stars like Corel and Blackberry (NASDAQ: BB ).
SHOP Stock Is Good at Growth
What Shopify seems to be best at is finding new merchants and selling stock.
Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ), for instance, pounded the table for Shopify last month just as it was completing an offering of 2.4 million shares, with limited voting rights, at $154 per share. After a week's fall for the tech wreck, those shares took off and opened for trade January 16 back at the offering price.
The offering raised about $400 million, bringing the company's cash pile to $2 billion, which it has been using to launch into new markets, acquire other companies like Sweden's TicTail , and offer loans to its merchant clients.
Shopify says its developers brought in about $2 billion in 2018, while its own revenues are approaching $1.1 billion. The app store, where shopkeepers can get things like Web-to-print product Brush Your Ideas , is Shopify's secret sauce, because it takes 20% of that revenue, and this helps it compete with rivals like Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE ) Magento or privately held Squarespace and BigCommerce.
But Shopify doesn't seem to have the same respect for its customers' customers. The online world is filled with scams and dodgy merchandise, and Shopify is regularly shocked, shocked by what happens to consumers in its stores.
Until recently, for instance, one of its merchants was a gun store that reportedly moved $11.4 million through a Shopify store. Shopify has also served Instagram "stars" with drop-ship scams which claim to be giving away valuable merchandise but are actually up-selling junk.
While Shopify stock is very volatile, it's no longer the home run it was in 2017, when it doubled in price. Over the last year it has traded for as little as $111 per share and for as much as $174, matching the volatility of the market. If you bought it just after Christmas, you look like a genius. If you bought two weeks before you look like an idiot.
Most news on Shopify involves the stock, not the company or its technology. You'll find stories asking if it's the nextAmazon.Com (NASDAQ: AMZN ), a millionaire maker stock .
InvestorPlace writers disagree on the company's future. James Brumley sees headwinds while Chris Lau sees another great quarter for the company.
The Bottom Line on Shopify Stock
Maybe it's because I've been following the Internet for 40 years, but I still have a suspicion, as I wrote over a year ago , that the Shopify story is going to end in tears.
The company seems to be all about getting new customers, opening new stores, selling more apps, and not about pleasing consumers, which is the metric by which real stores, and real companies, are measured.
You may make money on Shopify with quick moves, but I don't see a long-term future here.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of a new mystery thriller, The Reluctant Detective Finds Her Family , available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn . As of this writing he owned shares in AMZN.
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