Shopify Stock Has a Lot to Prove on Tuesday

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One of this year's biggest winners is under attack, and Shopify (NYSE: SHOP) will have the perfect opportunity to justify its year-to-date gains, and debunk the accusations that have roughed up the stock in recent weeks, when it reports fresh financials on Tuesday. While Shopify stock is still up a hearty 150% so far this year, it took a hit earlier this month after Citron Research skewered its model and its valuation.

Citron's bearish argument accuses the e-commerce platform of using promotional language with its referral network that may violate the Federal Trade Commission guidelines. Citron also suggests that Shopify's merchant count -- currently at 500,000 and rising -- is inflated, in light of the addressable market size of the platform's opportunity. Throw in Shopify's lack of profitability, and Citron argues that Shopify has an immediate price target of $60 -- and eventually a lot less than that.

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Shopify stock would go on to shed 22% of its value over six trading days following the bearish missive earlier this month. The stock has gone on to make back about half of that decline, but that only places more weight on Tuesday morning's report.

Beating the "beat and raise" game

Analysts see Shopify clocking in with $166.16 million in revenue for the third quarter, 67% ahead of where it landed a year earlier. It will likely be another small loss, but that hasn't been a deal-breaker in the past. Analysts don't expect profitability until next year at the earliest, with at least one Wall Street pro holding out until 2020 for Shopify to turn the corner on the bottom line.

The important factor in Shopify's monstrous run is that analysts, and Shopify itself, continue to publicly underestimate its growth. Shopify's revenue soared 75% to $151.7 million in its second quarter; its earlier guidance called for 62% to 64% growth. Shopify would go on to boost its revenue goal for all of 2017, just as it did three months earlier in its first-quarter report.

Shopify's own guidance back in early August was calling for $164 million to $166 million on the top line for the third quarter. Analysts are parked just above the high end of that range, but historically speaking that hasn't been enough. Another strong beat, and bumping up its 2017 revenue forecast for the third quarter in a row, would be the classic "beat and raise" that Shopify bulls need to keep the party going.

Citron hasn't put out an update to its original Oct. 4 report scorching Shopify, and it remains to be seen if a strong (or weak) financial report on Tuesday will smoke out an update. Shopify can help make its own luck by defending its platform, and the affiliate marketing practices Citron feels are illegal. Another monster quarter would be great, but right now, silencing a stock-tripping critic could be even greater for Shopify.

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Rick Munarriz has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Shopify. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.