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LinkedIn Is Poised to Deliver Outsized Returns

Erick is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

One of the founders of The Motley Fool, David Gardner, coined the phrase “Rule Breakers” in reference to companies that innovate and disrupt the status quo of a sector. The Rule Breaker company turns the sector on its head, and gains such momentum and growth that it ends up rewarding shareholders who invested early with outsized returns.

One of David’s early investments was Amazon, a Rule Breaker even to this day if there ever was one. Amazon completely disrupted retail in the late 1990s by using the internet and efficient distribution systems to dominate the nascent internet retail industry. Wal-Mart, a Rule Breaker in its own right in the 1970s and early 1980s, was caught flatfooted. Despite a world-class distribution system, Wal-Mart continues to lag behind Amazon in growth in internet retailing. Amazon of course continues to amaze by branching out into different directions, such as cloud computing services, but at its heart it is a retailing company. Wal-Mart just has never gotten the full hang of this internet thingie, something that Amazon was born and bred to do.

What does any of this have to do with LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD)? The answer is that LinkedIn appears to be a true Rule Breaker in the making. If you go through the Rule Breaker criteria LinkedIn seems to fit the mold.

1. Top Dog and First Mover in an industry

LinkedIn pioneered the concept of social media for professionals. It is the undisputed top dog and first mover as evidenced by its growth and the willingness of recruiters to pay for access to its members. LinkedIn created a social media environment where people can showcase their careers and connect with others in the business world.

2. Sustainable Advantage

LinkedIn has a large moat because of its large membership base and its networking effects. Once you hit critical mass it becomes much harder for anyone trying to get into your business to break in. With more than 200 million members it owns the professional social media space. 

3. Strong price appreciation

Over the last year the stock is up about 67% handily beating the market. Its 1 year chart shows a very nice trend upward with a pop evident after its last earnings announcement.

4. Smart Management

Management has made some excellent moves including raising prices while maintaining strong growth in revenues. LinkedIn continues to surprise to the upside with every quarterly report. 

5. Strong Consumer Appeal

With more than 200 million users and ranking 13th in terms of all web site traffic, consumer appeal is built into LinkedIn. If you are a professional looking for a job or a recruiter it is almost a necessity to become a part of the LinkedIn ecosystem.

6. Grossly overvalued

Rule Breakers frequently sport ridiculously high PEs, which in hindsight may have been completely justified based on future growth. LinkedIn with a current PE of 792 and a projected PE of 113 for 2013 certainly fits this mold. (It makes Amazon look cheap with a PE of 176 projected for 2013.)

Another comparison can be made to company that is arguably a Rule Breaker already: Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) which sells for the astronomical PE of 1903! Facebook disrupted social media and has become a giant in the space with more than 1 Billion users. LinkedIn is a mere babe with about 200 million users.

What makes LinkedIn particularly attractive at this time is that it is a relatively small company with a market cap of $16 Billion or so growing at a blistering pace and consistently beating expectations by a wide margin. LinkedIn crushed analyst expectations last week and its stock price popped more than 20% on Friday, 2/8/13. Revenues jumped 81% year over year and EPS surprised way to the upside. Analysts expected 19 cents a share and the actual number was 35 cents a share. As expected, a herd of analysts upped their projections which caused quite the short squeeze in the market and thus the more than 20% jump in stock price. Given all of this the valuation is not as bad as it first appears given the pace of growth and the potential for domination of its sector.

The only real competition right now is Facebook, but most professionals do not like mixing their casual Facebook persona with their businesslike LinkedIn persona. Facebook is being used as a repository of the life outside work (drunken party pictures and all), while LinkedIn is more dedicated to promoting your career by highlighting your professional achievements. While Facebook makes most of its money from advertising, LinkedIn has a good mix of revenue from advertising and user fees. Recruiters are finding it increasingly difficult to do business without paying a toll of sorts to LinkedIn. LinkedIn management sees this clearly and has been raising prices, thus the upwards revision in EPS estimates.

LinkedIn is doing to the headhunters and recruiters what Amazon did to independent book stores, driving them to extinction. The recruiters are like dinosaurs watching a giant comet head towards them, that comet is LinkedIn, and it is getting brighter and brighter as it squeezes the recruiters out of business by offering to connect professionals to job seekers. The LinkedIn clientele is white collar and in this environment acutely focused on polishing their career development. LinkedIn offers the services they need and is dominating the sector by building an ever-expanding moat with the use of its social media fortress.

The bottom line for LinkedIn is that despite its recent run up, the future is so bright you will need shades. Wait for the inevitable dips in stock price and buy with caution, but my 5-year projection is that LinkedIn will easily be a 3-4 bagger and possibly a 10 bagger in time. Just watch out for upstarts that may disrupt its model.


xerohype owns shares of LNKD and AMZN. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook and LinkedIn. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook and LinkedIn. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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