Zynga: Questions About The CEO Change


Zynga shares plunged last night after the game maker announced the sudden surprise that founder Mark Pincus will return to the CEO post, replacing Don Mattrick at the helm immediately. Although Zynga stock has taken a hit since Mattrick took over, Wall Street is seeing Pincus’ return as a huge negative.

Zynga stock dives

Shares of Zynga slumped by as much as 10.34% to $2.60 per share in premarket trading this morning as investors demonstrated their disdain for Pincus’ climb back into the CEO seat. Analysts from multiple firms are weighing in on the announcement, with most, unsurprisingly, predicting negative sentiment on the news.

UBS analysts pointed out that Zynga stock has declined 12% since July 8, 2013, the date when Mattrick started working as the game maker’s CEO. Meanwhile the S&P 500 has climbed 27% over the same time frame. The former Microsoft Xbox executive clearly hasn’t done anything to win back investors’ trust, and perhaps the game maker’s board of directors is tired of waiting.

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Why they selected Pincus to return to the CEO post is a little murky, however, as Wall Street wasn’t particularly happy with his performance before Mattrick stepped in. The announcement of Mattrick taking over the post sent shares soaring.

Mattrick, Zynga mutually decide to part ways

Zynga’s 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicates that Zynga and Mattrick had a “mutual desire to separate employment.” Under Mattrick’s guidance, Zynga turned toward a strategy focused on mobile games and expanding successful categories while also developing franchises in what UBS analyst Eric Sheridan and his team call “‘evergreen’ categories.'”

Jefferies analyst Brian Pitz and his team don’t expect much of a near-term change in Zynga’s strategy under Pincus. They also don’t believe there will be many changes to this year’s game release lineup.

Waiting for more clarity from Zynga

The UBS team notes that Pincus is very much invested in Zynga’s future because he has 63% voting control and a 9% “economic interest.” However, both UBS and Jefferies point out that no clarity was provided in last night’s announcement. As a result, all attention will be shifting to Zynga’s next earnings report and conference call, which are scheduled for May 7.

On the earnings call, Pincus is expected to provide more details on his plan for the company. The UBS team also expects the call to be important because it will provide shareholders with a forum to ask questions and get clarity about what’s ahead. The analysts want to hear Zynga’s capital return plans, real estate monetization plans and the rate at which the game maker intends to deploy new games. They still believe this year will be a “back-loaded” one as the company moves into longer development times for its games.

Q1 was strong: Zynga

Last night Zynga also said the earnings results from the first quarter were strong, and management sounded optimistic. However, they did not preannounce earnings. The Jefferies team believes Chief Financial Officer David Lee’s comments suggest that Zynga is running ahead of management’s plans, then investors will question why Pincus had to come in immediately to replace Mattrick rather than there being a slower period of transition.

Jefferies continues to rate Zynga as a Buy with a $4.50 per share price target, while UBS also maintains its Buy rating and $4 per share price target. Neither firm is adjusting its thesis for now but may do so after the May 7 earnings call.

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