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Battered Groupon stock is a good deal, analysts say

People enter and leave Groupon Inc corporate office and headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, November 4, 2011.
People enter and leave Groupon Inc corporate office and headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, November 4, 2011.© Frank Polich / Reuters / Reuters

Investors looking for a cut rate daily deal don't have to visit Groupon’s website or mobile app: They can just buy the stock. 

Concerns about everything from European exposure to the departure of chairman and co-founder Eric Lefkofsky last week pushed Groupon’s share price down to an all time low of $7.25 Wednesday. The rout continued at the opening of trading Thursday morning, although it crept up to roughly flat by midday. Even though the company faces skepticism on a number of fronts, at less than $8 a share, some analysts are starting to view the stock — which made its public debut in November at $20 a share — as a bargain.

Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney reiterated his buy rating and $19 price target in an interview with CNBC on Thursday. "This stock can move materially higher" he said, although he acknowledged that the company's youth made interpreting traffic data challenging.

According to market research company comScore, unique visitors to Groupon in the U.S. last month were below June 2011 numbers, but reflected an improvement over the previous four months of traffic. Globally, the number of unique visitors in May reflected a strong year over year increase. 

This international growth has a potential dark side though, with some analysts suggesting Groupon’s international sales in general and European sales in particular could be vulnerable amid the long-simmering eurozone debt crisis.

There’s also the possibility that Groupon’s second-quarter numbers, due out next month, could come in at the low end or even below guidance, said Raymond James senior research analyst Aaron Kessler.

Some of the softening in Groupon’s numbers could be attributed to the company's avoidance of big-ticket deals such as four-figure cosmetic procedures, a move analyst say is wise after the company was forced to restate fourth-quarter earnings last year in the wake of unexpectedly high return costs. There’s also a seasonality to the daily-deal business that could manifest as lower user numbers or earnings per customer.

The investors pushing Groupon’s share price down to its current lows are afraid that any slowdown would be due not to these factors, but to more fundamental flaws in the business itself, Kessler said. “There is investor concern over the sustainability of the model,... consumer and merchant fatigue.”

In some experts’ minds, this fear is overblown. “We view GRPN as driving the secular shift in local retail and consumer behavior through innovation of curated, location-based, relevant offerings,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a recent research note.

Far and away, Groupon’s biggest edge is its mastery of the mobile space. “In April 2012, nearly 30 percent of North American transactions were completed on mobile devices, an increase from 25 percent in December 2011,” Kessler wrote in a recent research note. These users aren’t only growing in number, he added; they’re spending up to 50 percent more than web-only customers.

This sets Groupon apart from and ahead of its peers. Facebook’s challenge in monetizing mobile users has been well documented and was blamed for the company’s last-minute SEC amendment before going public. Zynga’s stock fell after CEO Mark Pincus acknowledged this week that mobile is a key growth driver, then said that the game manufacturer would focus on its desktop platform until the fragmented mobile software landscape becomes more standardized, Reuters reported.

In a recent research note, William Blair & Company analyst Ralph Schackart said Internet radio company Pandora is finding its footing with mobile advertising — but selling small-screen ad space is a different game than selling products or services directly to consumers’ smartphones.

Groupon "is actually one of the few clear beneficiaries of mobile Internet," Mahaney said. This distinction could turn out to be the factor that makes an $8 share price look like a better investment than half-price restaurant vouchers.

You can keep track of Groupon's stock here.