Upstart shares are up 171% in three days, as momentum pours into fintech company


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In a year of historically wild stock moves, often driven by chatter on Reddit boards, financial software vendor Upstart Holdings is the latest company to see its stock soar to inexplicable heights.

Founded in 2012 by former Google executive David Girouard, Upstart went public in December and was valued at $2.1 billion after its market debut. After a 171% jump in the past three trading sessions, the company is now worth over $12 billion.

Upstart’s rally, including a 32% jump on Monday, is reminiscent of stocks like GameStop and AMC, which rocketed up in January, fueled by the r/WallStreetBets message board on Reddit and a ton of momentum buying on Robinhood and other consumer apps.

There have been some posts about Upstart on the WallStreetBets forum, including one saying “let’s ride this to the moon” in the subject line. But they’ve been removed by content moderators, which happens for various reasons, “including keeping communities safe, civil, and true to their purpose.”

However, unlike companies fueled by Reddit, Upstart did get an initial jolt from some actual positive news. After the market close on Wednesday, Upstart reported fourth-quarter revenue growth of 39% from a year earlier to $84.4 million and said operating income almost tripled to $10.4 million. Upstart forecast first-quarter revenue of $112 million to $118 million, an increase of about 80% at the midpoint of the range.

Upstart’s stock rally

It was an across-the-board beat, but fewer than five analysts cover the company, according to Refinitiv, so comparisons to estimates aren’t particularly reliable. Regarding the coming acceleration in the first quarter, Finance Chief Sanjay Datta said in the earnings call that the business is “catching up to where we otherwise would have expected it to be had there never been an impact of the pandemic.”

Upstart uses machine learning to underwrite consumer loans and provides its technology to banking partners, who use it for more targeted underwriting. The company said its revenue in the quarter came from the origination of almost 124,000 loans. Some demand tapered off last year because of the financial hardships of Covid-19.

Analysts at Barclays, in trying to keep up with the recent market reaction, raised their share price target on Friday to $110 from $58, a 90% increase. Still, that was below the $115.09 closing price from the prior day. Thus, the analysts kept their hold recommendation on the stock.

“We expect rapid growth to continue as the company moves into new verticals and distribution channels, but valuation keeps us on the sidelines as we await a more attractive entry point,” the Barclays analysts wrote.

The stock now trades for over 50 times 2020 revenue.

Upstart isn’t the first newly-public company to take off in the months following its market debut. Palantir, a provider of data analytics software for intelligence agencies and large companies, went public through a direct listing in September at $10 a share and started to shoot up a couple of months later, reaching a high of $39 in January. The stock has since fallen back to $24.22 at Monday’s close.

Upstart didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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