Upwork: Leaping Past Russia
- Upwork reported a solid Q1 despite impacts from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
- The company faces an impact of up to 10% of their business disrupted in the region, but Upwork still guided to nearly 20% growth in 2023.
- The stock is crazy cheap at 3.5x '23 revenue targets of over $760 million.
- Looking for more investing ideas like this one? Get them exclusively at Out Fox The Street. Learn More »
While the market was worried about the Russian and Ukraine impact on Upwork Inc. (NASDAQ:UPWK), the company was out executing on the business model. The stock traded down to below $20 on fears of a major slowdown, but the freelance marketplace is here to stay. My investment thesis remains very bullish on the gig economy stock now trading at depressed valuation multiples not reflective of a growth company.
Upwork reported an amazingly strong quarter, with revenues beating estimates by $5.6 million. The company grew revenues by 24% in the quarter to reach $141.3 million.
As with a lot of tech companies, Upwork faces a business interruption from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The company is shutting off all business in both Russia and Belarus on May 1, and Ukraine has naturally been impacted with half the country embattled off and on in war with Russia.
The company forecast ~4% of the business cut off from ending business in Russia and Belarus and another 6% is at risk due to work in Ukraine. In total, Upwork has up to 10% of the business at risk, though the Ukraine portion should've felt the impact starting in February. Remember, this is either the talent or the client suggesting some of the work can shift to another area other than business from a client in the 3 countries.
Upwork offered impressive guidance for 2022 revenues of $590 to $610 million. The company did cut the previous annual revenue guidance from $620 to $630 million when providing guidance in early February before the Russian invasion.
The guidance cut amounts to an elimination of $25 million in annual revenues for the year, or ~4% of the original guidance and ~5% of the 2021 revenues of $503 million. Remember though, the full Russian impact is only 8 months of the year with probably some disruption for March and April. The Ukraine disruption is for up to 10 months of the year, but a lot of the workers remain engaged and could stay very active with Kyiv no longer active in the war zone. Upwork suggests only a $1 million revenue hit in Q1'22, and the business has seen additional talent signup in Ukraine as families look to find flexible work in a difficult environment.
The company could see substitution of the work originally compiled by Russian talent, possibly even by new Ukrainian workers. The major hiccup with guidance is not knowing what the substitution rates will be for the work knowing so many clients have strong relationships with existing talent.
Outside of the war zone, the business model remains strong. Active clients were up 16% YoY to 793K, but more importantly, these clients grew GSV (gross service volumes) by 18% YoY to nearly $5k.
Upwork needs fewer new customers when existing clients are spending more. The focus on enterprise customers is a big part of the GSV per active client lift, as the current average spending of only $5K per year is a relatively small amount for most businesses.
The stock has fallen so much that Upwork is now a deep value tech stock while the market is busy shunning overpriced tech stocks. The work marketplace company isn't EBITDA positive now, but investors shouldn't bypass the stock for this reason.
Upwork trades at only 3.5x 2023 sales targets lowered by the Ukraine issue. This P/S multiple is normally towards the low end for a tech stock growing revenues in excess of 20% annually.
The company was EBITDA profitable before the war in Ukraine and only lost $0.6 million in Q1'22. The guidance isn't shocking for the EBITDA loss to accelerate to $6+ million in Q2'22, mainly as more brand advertising spend occurs in the quarter.
Investors shouldn't exactly want Upwork to focus on profits during this period of developing a global work marketplace for freelancers. The company is only guiding to 2022 revenues of ~$600 million, so the business is relatively small. The biggest issue with not being profitable is a scenario where the company burns tons of cash, but Upwork has a cash balance of $673 million, while the net cash position is only $121 million due to $562 million in debt.
The key investor takeaway is that Upwork is primed to rally when the stock market moves away from the current panic mode. The stock trades at a minimal P/S ratio due to the Ukrainian issues and doesn't fall into the high multiple tech stocks deserving of an additional sell-off.
Investors should use weakness to load up on Upwork, with the Ukraine headwind turning into a tailwind for a vibrant business.
If you'd like to learn more about how to best position yourself in under valued stocks mispriced by the market during recession and rate hike fears, consider joining Out Fox The Street.
The service offers model portfolios, daily updates, trade alerts and real-time chat. Sign up now for a risk-free, 2-week trial to start finding the next stock with the potential to generate excessive returns in the next few years without taking on the out sized risk of high flying stocks.
This article was written by
Stone Fox Capital launched the Out Fox The Street MarketPlace service in August 2020.
Invest with Stone Fox Capital's model Net Payout Yields portfolio on Interactive Advisors as he makes real time trades. The site allows followers to duplicate the model portfolio in their own brokerage accounts. You can find the portfolio and more details here:
Net Payout Yields model
Follow Mark on twitter: @stonefoxcapital
Analyst’s Disclosure: I/we have no stock, option or similar derivative position in any of the companies mentioned, but may initiate a beneficial Long position through a purchase of the stock, or the purchase of call options or similar derivatives in UPWK over the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
The information contained herein is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this article should be taken as a solicitation to purchase or sell securities. Before buying or selling any stock, you should do your own research and reach your own conclusion or consult a financial advisor. Investing includes risks, including loss of principal.
Seeking Alpha's Disclosure: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. No recommendation or advice is being given as to whether any investment is suitable for a particular investor. Any views or opinions expressed above may not reflect those of Seeking Alpha as a whole. Seeking Alpha is not a licensed securities dealer, broker or US investment adviser or investment bank. Our analysts are third party authors that include both professional investors and individual investors who may not be licensed or certified by any institute or regulatory body.