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Yelp shares surge in stock market debut

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NEW YORK — Yelp's stock opened to five-star reviews from investors on Friday, soaring 65 percent to $24.77 in the first minutes of trading after pricing at $15 on Thursday night.

The online reviews site's initial public offering priced above its targeted range of $12 to $14 per share. That already suggested strong investor demand for a slice of the 8-year-old online reviews site, which has yet to turn a profit.

The offering nets Yelp about $96 million after expenses, the company estimated. Yelp is sold 7.1 million shares and its charitable foundation another 50,000. Investment bankers also have an option sell an additional 1.07 million shares, depending on investor demand. If those shares are sold, Yelp expects net proceeds of $111.2 million.

The IPO price valued Yelp at $900 million. With Friday's stock price jump, the San Francisco company has a market value of $1.49 billion. Such a big first-day jump is common, especially for high-profile Internet companies such as Yelp. LinkedIn Corp., the professional networking service, saw its stock nearly triple on its first trading day, reaching $122.70 after pricing at $45.

Though it's best known for restaurant reviews, Yelp's users have reviewed churches, strip clubs, hospitals, hotels and high schools. The company makes money from advertising. Most of the ads come from the local businesses that its users review. In 2011, it booked revenue of $83.3 million, up 74 percent from 2010. It had a net income loss of $16.7 million last year and $9.6 million the year before.

"Yelp's active community of users writing reviews of local businesses is difficult to replicate," said Morningstar analyst Rick Summer. "Unfortunately, the company faces challenges translating the small advertising budgets of local businesses into profitability, as about 70 percent of ad revenues are eaten up by sales and marketing expenses."

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