Snap Inc. (NYSE:SNAP) goes public tomorrow, and millions of investors are waiting with baited breath to buy shares of what could be one of the biggest technology-related IPOs of the past several years with a valuation that could hit $30 or even $40 billion.
Only problem is, companies like Snap are called "unicorns" for a reason – they're fantasy.
Which is why I've got a far better and potentially more profitable alternative for you today.
What Snap Hopes You Miss in Its S-1 Registration Statement
Most investors are familiar with the term "unicorn," and not because they read children's books.
Unicorns are what Wall Street calls private startup companies valued at $1 billion or more. Once the stuff of myth and legend, today "unicorns" like Uber, Xiaomi, Airbnb, and, of course, Snap seem to fall off trees.
You'd think unicorns are a license to print money based on how Wall Street pitches them to the investing public in highly choreographed "road shows," but sadly that's not the case.
Like their mythical counterparts, unicorns are complete fantasy masquerading under the guise of a legitimate investment opportunity. When you look deeper, they are little more than an illusion intended to make a small group of founders, early investors, and investment bankers wealthy…
And it's a bad illusion at that.
Take Snap's S-1 Registration Statement, for example.
An S-1 is a filing required by SEC for any company that wants to go public. It's the investing public's first opportunity to review a unicorn's financials and other critically important data that insiders have known for years.
I call S-1s "anti-marketing marketing documents" because they highlight all the reasons why you don't want to invest – especially when it comes to a company like Snap Inc.
Naturally, Wall Street's investment bankers – who stand to make hundreds of millions on the deal – hope you'll never pick one up.
Instead, what they want you to concentrate on is the "potential" associated with five years of mainstream social usage, the hype associated with telling stories through pictures that disappear, and the fact that the company has a "gee-whiz-bang" set of funky filters and glasses called Spectacles that will let you document life.
They're also hoping to play up the fact that Snap CEO Evan Spiegel famously refused a $3 billion offer from Team Zuckerberg. The implication, of course, being that Snap is somehow worth far more than that.
Don't believe it for a New York minute.
Initial public offerings like this one are the world's greatest shill game. Silicon Valley is very much in cahoots with Wall Street, and both want to set you up as the patsy.
I have a hard time taking a company seriously when the S-1 it's filed references sexting, selfies, and party-goats as formative influences, something company lawyers clearly tried to obfuscate by stating they knew that Snapchat "was being used for so much more."
Snap views itself as a "camera" company because it believes the cameras built into its glasses will be the "starting point" for most products on smartphones.
Last time I checked, people were actively trying to figure out ways not to use portable technology because it's becoming too intrusive. We're hearing about internet addiction, compulsive behavior, and email regulation at a time when the last thing our society needs is another few million Kardashian wannabes.
Then there's the fact that the Snap glasses themselves are dorky looking. How many image-conscious millennials are they really going to sell to? It's not for nothing that people who wore Google's glasses were summarily branded as "glassholes," which obviously is a less than flattering term.
The other thing to think about is that Snap booked $404.5 million in sales in 2016 yet still lost $514.6 million, which is nearly double the $372.9 million loss it reported for 2015 according to their S-1.
Management is hoping you'll overlook that little tidbit because it wants to monetize users. That's Technorati code-speak for converting tire-kickers into customers which is, very bluntly, the same challenge a used car salesman faces.
IPOs Are a Rigged Game You Don't Want to Play
When I came into this business more than 35 years ago, companies with legitimate business models and real cash flow went public because they needed additional capital to grow already-viable operations. Now companies go public because they've got an idea they hope to "monetize." More often than not, they're huge money losers hoping to "cash out" on your dime.
Back then, going public was something you did when you wanted to stay in the game. Now founders and early investors are looking to the individual investor as an exit – meaning you are going to make them worth billions instantly, even as they transfer all the risk of ownership to your wallet.
Whether the newly IPO'd business lives or dies is moot as long as the IPO "works."
That's a leap of faith in this instance, considering that 97% of Snap's revenue over the past two years has come from short-term advertising. Long-term advertising agreements apparently don't exist, although that's something Snap wants to achieve… but which it may not… ever.
Snap execs say that they've got this handled because they're focused on growing the amount of time and energy each user spends on its platform, whereas Facebook focuses on growing its user base. I'm not sure that's true. Instagram, in fact, recently overtook Snap in terms of time spent per user, according to Modern Trader.
The situation reminds me of GoPro and Fitbit, both of which were supposedly all about user engagement, too, and both of which have flamed out spectacularly. The former hit a post-IPO peak of $86.87 and now trades at $9.44, having lost more than 85% of its value. The latter hit a post-IPO peak of $51.64 and now trades at $6.25, having lost 82% of its value.
Then consider Nintendo, which lifted briefly before plummeting 18% in a single day after executives admitted Pokémon Go would have only a "limited" effect on the company's bottom line.
Then, there's the lawsuit.
Chances are you haven't heard anything about that because Wall Street wants it hush-hush, as do company execs. But the allegations being raised by former employee Anthony Pompliano are damning, which makes them even more important, given the stakes at hand.
Pompliano alleges that Snap lured him away from Facebook to gain insider information on how that company approaches social media and that Snap is misrepresenting user information to the investing public… i.e., you. Not surprisingly, Snap wants key portions of Pompliano's suit sealed because they could be damaging for business… and the IPO.
It'd be one thing if we were talking about a few misplaced zeros on travel expenses or something immaterial, but user metrics and insider intelligence are two of the single-most important metrics in social media when it comes to valuation.
At the end of the day, I believe Snap's IPO is a speculative trade at best…
Not an investment.
What's more, the IPO is happening at a time when social media is sun-setting – meaning that we're seeing the end of believable hype because so many people have been burned on other "social" offerings.
This makes Snap's move even more dangerous because the situation is a lot like a wild frat party. Silicon Valley is desperately trying to invite the last guests in while they head quietly out the back door before the police arrive.
If you're a nimble trader with strict risk management and money to burn, then knock yourself out. You might get lucky. I'll shake my head and high five you if that's the case!
If you're an investor, wait a year for things to shake out and only buy in if the business case – rather than pre-IPO hype – makes sense for a longer-term hold.
Or consider buying into a specialized mutual fund like the one I recommended to Money Map Report subscribers last December. It takes pre-IPO positions in the world's best technology companies, and ensures your money is aligned with Wall Street insiders without the kind of risks that most unsuspecting investors will carry when the bell rings Thursday morning.
Until next time,
P.S. This pre-IPO mutual fund is just one of 10 that make up a special class of investments that I call "26(f) programs" you can "enroll" in today with just a small stake. I shared these "programs" with Money Map Report subscribers to ensure they are able to prepare themselves for the Retirement Blackout – an event that could have a catastrophic impact on your retirement once this piece of Obama-era legislation goes into effect on April 10. It's not too late for you to get in, if you haven't already. Get the full story here.
About the Author
Keith Fitz-Gerald has been the Chief Investment Strategist for the Money Morning team since 2007. He's a seasoned market analyst with decades of experience, and a highly accurate track record. Keith regularly travels the world in search of investment opportunities others don't yet see or understand. In addition to heading The Money Map Report, Keith runs High Velocity Profits, which aims to get in, target gains, and get out clean. In his weekly Total Wealth, Keith has broken down his 30-plus years of success into three parts: Trends, Risk Assessment, and Tactics – meaning the exact techniques for making money. Sign up is free at totalwealthresearch.com.