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: Teladoc’s ‘quarter for the bears’ sparks an exodus of bulls

Shares of Teladoc Health Inc. were plunging 40% in premarket trading Thursday after the telemedicine company cut its full-year outlook, prompting a handful of analysts who once recommended the stock to jump ship.

The company called out lower efficiencies in marketing spend related to its online mental-health product, with Chief Executive Jason Gorevic noting on the earnings call that “the biggest driver of this dynamic is smaller private competitors pursuing what we think are low- or no-return customer acquisition strategies in an attempt to establish market share.”

Citi Research analyst Daniel Grosslight downgraded Teladoc’s

stock to neutral from buy following the report, writing that he thought it “reveal[ed] cracks in TDOC’s whole health foundation as increased competitive intensity is weighing on growth and margins.”

While direct-to-consumer mental-health and chronic-care services were supposed to be big growth drivers for Teladoc in the coming years, these areas are now showing the “particularly apparent” impacts of competition, he continued.

“And while we are reticent to make sweeping changes to our thesis based off of one poor quarter, we are doubtful that we will see the competition-driven headwinds abate anytime soon,” Grosslight wrote. “This will keep TDOC’s share price in a tight band over the next twelve months.”

He titled his note to clients: “A Quarter for the Bears” and cut his price target to $43 from $115.

One positive, in Grosslight’s view, is that Teladoc’s steep drop in valuation could make the company a takeout candidate. With the stock trading at 2 times estimates for 2023 sales, a valuation Grosslight said was an all-time low, he sees the possibility that Teladoc could attract interest from either a company with a managed-care focus, a technology giant, or a competitor.

Teladoc shares had dropped 70% over the past year through Wednesday’s close, without taking into account the expected drop in Thursday’s session.

William Blair’s Ryan Daniels also cited Teladoc’s “materially reduced valuation multiple,” but he, too, was no longer willing to recommend that investors buy the stock.

“There are no organizations that can match the company’s international scale and scope of offerings across the continuum of care, or the number of distribution channels that Teladoc targets,” Daniels wrote. Still, he downgraded the stock to market perform from outperform, pointing to a “lack of clarity regarding key sales headwinds.”

Guggenheim analyst Sandy Draper abandoned his bullish case as well. While he had originally expected that Teladoc would be able to grow revenue by 25% to 30% annually, he expects slower momentum based on the company’s latest disclosures.

“With the challenges TDOC is facing in the mental health and chronic care businesses, we expect a more modest growth trajectory over the next several years as well as less significant EBITDA margin expansion than we initially anticipated,” Draper wrote. “The magnitude of the reduction in a relatively short period of time lowers our confidence in the visibility of the model.”

Draper cut his rating on Teladoc’s stock to neutral and removed his prior $96 price target.

Still, some bullish analysts weren’t willing to give up on Teladoc, with Needham’s Ryan MacDonald suggesting that the company’s problems were more temporary.

MacDonald called out that some Teladoc competitors in the mental-health industry were benefiting from rules related to the current public-health emergency that allow for the prescription of controlled substances through telehealth services.

“These operators have proliferated as a result of the public health emergency…but their business practice would violate state and federal laws absent the relaxed regulation,” he wrote. “As such, management does not believe these operators are durable competitors, but expect the impact to last through the course of the year.”

Additionally, though Teladoc’s management team pointed to an “elongated” sales cycle for its chronic-care services, MacDonald got the sense that “deals have not been lost, but rather pushed into FY23.”

“While TDOC is down sharply on the guidance revision, we believe its integrated approach will drive broad platform adoption as the pipeline converts,” he concluded. “As such, we view the post-announcement selloff as a buying opportunity.”

He kept a buy rating on the stock but reduced his price target to $48 from $100.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Sean Dodge reiterated his bullish rating as well, writing that the company’s “scale, breadth and depth” serve as “effective long-term competitive differentiators” in the markets for general medical and chronic-care services.

Like Grosslight, he also sees the possibility of an acquisition, pointing to what he views as the “growing attractiveness of TDOC as a strategic target for the large number of tech companies looking for [healthcare] footholds.”

He kept an outperform rating on the shares, though he cut his price target to $65 from $120.

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