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Snap’s business isn’t growing as fast as Wall Street once hoped

Snap reports Q3 earnings on Tuesday.

Snapchat co-founders Bobby Murphy, chief technology officer of Snap Inc., and Evan Spiegel, chief executive officer of Snap Inc.
Snap CEO Evan Spiegel (center)
Drew Angerer / Getty

Wall Street has been lowering the bar for Snap over the past six months. On Tuesday, we’ll find out if Snap can jump over it.

The messaging and media company is set to report Q3 earnings on Tuesday, its third earnings report since going public in early March. The first two did not go well.

That might change Tuesday, in part because Wall Street isn’t expecting much from Snap. Since the end of June, the consensus revenue estimate for Snap’s third quarter has decreased by more than 15 percent, from $280 million to just $237 million.

Why? There doesn’t appear to be any one event responsible for changing the forecasts. Instead, it seems to be that Snapchat’s automated ad sales are taking longer than expected to hit their stride.

On the company’s last earnings call, Snap executives said that some 60 percent of all its ad impressions were delivered through automated software programs, but admitted that smaller advertisers — the bread and butter for advertising giants like Facebook and Google — are still figuring out how and why they should advertise on Snapchat.

Snap executives also warned that Q3 revenue might be a little lower than expected because, unlike in 2016, there is no Olympics or U.S. presidential election to help boost sales this year. (Snap doesn’t provide actual guidance on revenue, though.)

Preaching patience for Snap’s ads business is nothing new. We heard the same suggestion from ad buyers this summer at the Cannes Lions advertising conference in France, and analysts keep suggesting this may take a while. “Building high bid density for programmatic ad buying, and getting ad buyers educated on the self-serve platform takes time,” wrote Youssef Squali, an internet research analyst from SunTrust, when explaining the declining expectations in a research note.

How much time Snap gets to figure that out is still unclear.

A few other things to watch when Snap reports earnings:

  • CEO Evan Spiegel said last month that he needs to do a better job communicating to investors, and has since done a few on-the-record interviews about new Snapchat features. Tuesday provides another opportunity for him to explain why Snap, despite increased competition from Facebook, is in a good place. Some investors were put off by Spiegel’s first few earnings calls. Back in May, for example, he dismissed the idea of Facebook as a serious competitor, leading CNBC’s Jim Cramer to call him “arrogant” during an on-air rant.
  • Snap spends a lot of money, and costs have been an early concern for the company. Some of the most dramatic costs can be attributed to one-off stock awards tied to the IPO, but others, like cloud services deals with Google and Amazon, won’t go away anytime soon. Few expected Snap, a company focused on growth, to be profitable in its first year as a publicly traded company, but the company’s spending makes it seem like profitability is still a long way off.

Snap will report Q3 earnings post-market on Tuesday. Analysts are expecting the company to report a loss of 15 cents per share on revenue of $237 million for the quarter, according to Yahoo Finance. That would represent 85 percent year-over-year growth. Analysts also think Snap added about eight million new users last quarter. It currently has 173 million daily users.

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