Upbeat News Fails To Lift Embattled NQ

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A half year after a scathing short-seller attack decimated its stock, security software maker NQ Mobile (NQ) is still trying to convince the world that it’s a serious company by boosting its revenue guidance and announcing a strategic tie-up for one of its US subsidiaries. Unfortunately, investors didn’t seem too impressed by the 2 pieces of upbeat news, though NQ shares did stage a modest rally after the announcements. That rally was what initially attracted my attention — until I realized that the company’s shares are now trading even lower than they were after the original massive sell-off following the short-seller attack last November.

Clearly NQ is still suffering from a credibility problem, as the newly issued revenue guidance would look quite strong if it was coming from a company that enjoyed good investor trust. Another element hurting NQ could be the IPO last month by Cheetah Mobile (NYSE:CMCM), which offers a rival product and is backed by the highly respected software maker Kingsoft (OTCPK:KSFTF). Finally there’s the very real possibility that the company could be suffering from behind-the-scenes verbal attacks from another rival, Qihoo 360 (NYSE:QIHU), following accusations a couple of weeks ago of similar attacks from Cheetah. (previous post)

Before we go any further with speculation on what could be weighing down NQ’s stock and whether now might represent a good buying opportunity, let’s take a quick look at the latest announcements that haven’t done much to boost the company’s shares. NQ made both announcements the same day late last week, starting with an upbeat outlook for its revenue in the current quarter.

According to that announcement, NQ now expects its first-quarter revenue to exceed its previous guidance of $75-$76 million, though it didn’t specify by how much it would beat the forecast. (company announcement) The company also gave an initial second-quarter revenue guidance range of $83-$84 million. Both figures look quite strong, representing a more than doubling of revenue from the year-ago period.

In the other announcement, NQ said it had reached a deal to sell 5.88 percent of its US-based FL Mobile unit to Bison Capital and some other investors. (company announcement) The buyer group would pay $25 million for the stake, valuing FL Mobile at $425 million. That figure alone is nearly equal to NQ’s current market value, which would imply the company’s stock is significantly undervalued based on its latest share price.

NQ’s stock initially surged nearly 30 percent after the pair of announcements, but then gave back most of the gains and closed up a more modest 11 percent. But on a longer term basis, the stock is performing quite miserably. The shares surged last year on a broader rally for Chinese tech stocks, but then lost two-thirds of their value after the attack in which notorious short seller Muddy Waters questioned many of its financials. The shares then managed to gain back much of the ground and were above $20, but have sunk once again over the last 2 months to their current levels of less than $8.

As I’ve said above, I do think this company is suffering from a credibility issue, and the overbearing presence of Cheetah Mobile and Qihoo 360 probably isn’t helping. Both Cheetah and Qihoo are far larger companies, with respective market values of $2.4 billion and $10.8 billion, and almost certainly have drawn away investor money that might otherwise have gone to NQ.

So, where does that leave NQ and its shares? One of the most encouraging signals would be that no signs have emerged yet of an investigation by the US securities regulator. That’s significant because the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) would almost certainly have made queries following the original short seller report. Of course it’s still possible such an investigation could be disclosed, but at least based on the latest signals NQ’s stock looks like it could have some upside potential.

Bottom line: NQ Mobile’s shares have come under pressure due to competition from rivals and damage to its credibility after a short-seller attack, meaning the stock could have some upside potential.