Opinion: Zynga investors start to realize their predicament
It's a pretty safe assumption that anyone who shelled out for Zynga stock when the company went public -- or even in the five months that followed -- isn't real happy these days.
After reaching a high of nearly $16 per share, the stock now dwells in the cellar
, closing Thursday at $3.25. (And, if it weren't for JMP Securities' bullish words when it initiated coverage on the company Wednesday, it would almost certainly be even lower.)
Things took a turn for the worse for investors a few weeks ago, though, when CEO Mark Pincus said he would never consider the sale of the company. As word of that declaration has slowly spread
, some investors have started to squawk.
Let's be clear up front. While I've pointed out Zynga's problems
in the past, I'll be the first to say the idea of a company sale at this point doesn't make a lot of sense. While its stock is circling the drain and it's certainly suffering challenges with audience and executive retention right now, the company is cash rich and has plenty of room to recover.
And shareholders certainly have a right to be frustrated. Traditionally, after all, a company has a fiduciary duty to make decisions that are in the best interest of its owners -- the shareholders.
There's one little problem with that, though. The shareholders don't own the majority of Zynga. Mark Pincus does.
This has never been a secret. It was clear from the day the company filed its IPO paperwork with the SEC that Pincus was not giving up any form of control in the company. With his super shares, he has voting power to control every decision the company makes, even if every last shareholder thinks it's a bad idea.
So why, you have to ask, did anyone crazy enough to hand their money to Zynga, think there would be an exit strategy? If Pincus has shown anything throughout his tenure at the company, it's his insistence on absolute control. (No one knows that better than John Schappert, who was unfairly tagged as the reason
for the company's decline.)
Zynga insists that the social games sector is shrinking, saying that a "challenging" environment on Facebook was the reason it wildly missed
its second quarter earnings expectations and will fall short of its earlier guidance for the fiscal year.
Facebook, though, says it hasn't seen any sign of that. In fact, it notes, the number of people playing games was up 8 percent
in the first half of 2012. In the last month, in fact, some 235 million played a game on the social network.
In other words, people are playing more; they're just not playing Zynga's games.
That, unfortunately, puts Zynga shareholders in the same position as many Zynga employees. If they want to see any return in their shares in the company, they have little choice but to sit tight and hope that things get better.
The key difference is this: Investors should have known better. Employees didn't have the chance to ignore the warning signs. Those weren't there when they signed on board -- or if they were, they weren't so glaringly obvious.