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Reddit's lost money for nearly 20 years. Turning a profit is going to be tricky.

Theron Mohamed   

Reddit's lost money for nearly 20 years. Turning a profit is going to be tricky.
  • Reddit is nearly 20 years old and still loses money. Changing that won't be easy.
  • The social-media platform's stock began trading last week and has soared by more than 75%.

Reddit was founded nearly two decades ago, yet it's never turned a profit. The social-media giant's stock surged 48% on its trading debut last week and is now up more than 75% from its IPO price, as investors wager that will finally change. But there's reason to be skeptical.

Wall Street seems to be in two minds about the company. After the initial pop in Reddit stock, it slid nearly 9% during its second day of trading on Friday, only to jump 30% on Monday.

Traders may be thinking twice about Reddit's aggressive valuation. At Monday's closing price of almost $60 a share, the company is worth $9.5 billion — roughly 12 times its revenue of $804 million last year. For reference, that's about $2.3 billion more than The New York Times Company, which is very profitable indeed.

Reddit also posted a net loss of $91 million last year. That was 43% lower than the previous 12 months but still left the company firmly in the red with more than $700 million of cumulative losses. That situation is unlikely to drastically improve for a while.

After all, many internet companies that go public are startups with the vast majority of their growth ahead of them. Investors bet on these unprofitable names because they believe that once they scale up their business models, they'll become profitable.

Where's the money?

Yet Reddit has been grinding away for almost 19 years now and continues to bleed cash despite being among the world's most popular websites, with some 267 million weekly users.

Reddit's pitch to Wall Street in its IPO prospectus was that it could turn a profit by ramping up advertising revenues, licensing its user-generated content to AI companies such as Alphabet, and enabling its users to make money on its platform then taking a cut of the proceeds.

But its users could prove tricky to monetize. There's pushback against invasive advertising, resistance to companies selling their user data to the highest bidder, and reluctance among volunteer moderators to turn subreddits into side hustles.

The home of subreddits such as r/WallStreetBets and r/The_Donald also noted in its prospectus that the US accounted for about half its website visits in December, and more than 90% of Reddit posts were in English that month.

Reddit framed that as a huge opportunity to attract international users, and appeal to a much larger audience with foreign-language posts.

Meta dreams

But it's unclear whether the company can transform from a consistent money loser to a profit machine when that hasn't happened in close to two decades.

Investors may be dreaming of another Meta — the Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp owner's stock price has soared more than 12-fold since its trading debut in 2012, valuing it among the world's largest companies with a market cap of $1.3 trillion.

But there's a risk that Reddit will turn out to be another Snap. The Snapchat creator priced its IPO at $17 in March 2017 and enjoyed a 44% pop to north of $24 on its first trading day. But its stock has more than halved since to about $11.

Now that Reddit is finally public, it may be able to reinvent its business and supercharge its finances. That's unlikely to be a simple task.

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