At one point, Skillz (NYSE:SKLZ) stock was supposed to be the hot new thing in the online gaming industry. By letting players compete for real cash prizes, it would bridge the gap between gambling and e-sports. Or that was the idea, anyway.
Skillz stock hit $46 at one point early in 2021. Powered up by heavy momentum trading and rumors of an National Football League (NFL) partnership, Skillz was on top of the world. Since then, however, shares have crashed 80%. And there’s not much good news either. SKLZ stock will continue to sink in 2022. Here’s why.
Skillz Is Not A Functional Business
The first rule of business is that you should sell your goods and services for more than the cost of product. Skillz fails this metric, badly.
Q3 was supposedly a great quarter for Skillz. It generated significantly more revenues than analysts had expected, after all. If you’re just going by revenues, Skillz had its ducks in a row.
But you have to consider the cost of generating those revenues. Here’s the numbers specifically. For Q3, Skillz did $102 million of topline revenue, up from $60 million in the same quarter of 2020. However, the company spent $113 million on sales & marketing expenses to generate that $102 million of revenue.
A huge chunk of this is in player incentives, such as giving folks more credits or bonuses to keep playing after they lose. In this way, it’s supposed to keep users interested in the ecosystem. However, if a casino has no edge, it won’t make money. This raises the question: If Skillz stopped giving out so much free stuff, would anyone keep playing its games?
If Skillz has to incentivize players to stay engaged, it has no long-term business model. Just from sales and marketing alone, Skillz is more than outspending its entire revenue base. That’s before you get to R&D, management salaries and overhead, data and other costs to run the games, and interest. Speaking of interest…
Skillz Catastrophic Bond Offering
Given that Skillz is running colossal operating losses right now, not surprisingly, it wants to raise more funds to keep the show going. And, with the stock price in a deep slump, issuing equity is not an attractive option.
So, instead, Skillz turned to the debt market to get its next cash injection. Unfortunately, demand for Skillz’ bonds was underwhelming, to put it mildly. To raise a modest $300 million of debt, Skillz had to shell out a mind-blowing 10.25% annual interest rate. That will add another $30 million in annual interest expenses to a company that is already losing around $200 million annually on an operating income basis.
If the company had a viable turnaround plan, maybe this $300 million of new funds would make a difference. But since Skillz’ business so far is simply to increase revenues by subsidizing players with more and more incentives, it’s unclear how more cash will fix its core problem. The games just aren’t of the caliber needed to attract and keep unincentivized players on the platform.
We just saw a clear piece of evidence confirming that. Skillz’ Chief Technology Officer, Miriam Aguirre, recently resigned. A CTO is one of the people who knows a firm’s prospects best. Creditors are another. And both are giving off negative signs about Skillz’ viability.
Beware The EBITDA Narrative
Tech investors are used to buying stocks based on EBITDA. That’s a shorthand for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. People like to use this as a metric because it gives a sense of the amount of cash flow that would be available to a strategic buyer, such as private equity. It gives an “apples to apples” way of comparing firms with much different balance sheets and debt burdens.
However, there are shortfalls to using EBITDA. For one thing, the costs tend to be real expenses. In this case, interest is a very real problem for a small money-losing company like Skillz. Skillz may be able to use its newly-borrowed funds to generate some EBITDA. But it will have to pay very real interest — nearly 20% of its current annual gross profit — simply to address this new high-interest debt. That paper EBITDA will never turn into real profits or cash flow for shareholders.
For Skillz to become a viable business, it needs to make games that users want to play of their own volition. As long as Skillz has to pay users huge incentives to stay on the platform, this business will lose money. Don’t let misleading EBITDA analysis distract you from the fact that the core business model has failed to demonstrate success yet.
SKLZ Stock Verdict
The credit market has made it very clear; Skillz is a high-risk gamble at this point. In a world with a seemingly unlimited amount of money to fund speculative ventures and start-ups, Skillz had to accept a loan on terrible terms to get funding. That makes SKLZ stock a clear avoid.
In fact, I’ll go one step further. I’d argue this bond is being priced as though creditors believe there’s a good chance that Skillz will not be a viable going concern in future years. You simply don’t slap this sort of punitive interest rate on a company unless you think there’s a solid chance that the equity ends up being worthless. People are desperate for yield right now, and yet they wouldn’t lend to Skillz for less than 10.25% per year. Given Skillz’ terrible profitability metrics, it’s understandable why creditors have taken this posture.
Gaming stocks have had a rough time to end 2021. But they’re not all created equal. Something like Penn National Gaming (NASDAQ:PENN) or DraftKings (NASDAQ:DKNG) has a far better shot of turning things around in 2022 than Skillz.
On the date of publication, Ian Bezek did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.
Ian Bezek has written more than 1,000 articles for InvestorPlace.com and Seeking Alpha. He also worked as a Junior Analyst for Kerrisdale Capital, a sizable New York City-based hedge fund. You can reach him on Twitter at @irbezek.