What happened

It’s been a long time coming, but today at long last, it looks like (some) stocks may have stopped moving en masse — rushing first to one side of the ship all together, then when it looks likely to capsize, lurching back to the other side. Case in point: At 1:10 p.m. EDT today, we’re seeing shares of e-commerce facilitator Shopify (NYSE: SHOP) surge 7.5%, and Latin American e-tailer MercadoLibre (NASDAQ: MELI) rising 8.7%.

In stark contrast, shares of eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) are down 4.5%. 

Red arrow swoops up and blue arrow swoops down

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

There’s no obvious reason why investors are preferring Shopify and MercadoLibre over eBay today. To the contrary, in the case of Shopify, this morning analysts at Loop Capital cut their price target on the stock by 35%, to $350 a share, warning that while Shopify has significant competitive advantages over its rivals, the risk of a global recession, and the damage it could do to e-commerce companies, warrants a “risk off” attitude to stocks right now.  

Not only does Loop see little prospect for Shopify’s stock price rebounding off its recent lows, the analyst also expects the stock to fall further.

In contrast, eBay is being pursued by activist investor Starboard Value, which is looking to shake up the company’s management and take other actions to goose the stock price higher. You might think that such a development would be good news for eBay’s stock, but investors today are voting the opposite.

Now what

So even if investors are starting to differentiate among different stocks with differing prospects today, they may not be thinking especially logically in every instance.

What are they thinking, though, in preferring Shopify and MercadoLibre over eBay? Here’s one theory:

Currently, neither Shopify nor MercadoLibre are profitable. But according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, both companies are expected to turn profitable in the next couple of years (2021 for MercadoLibre, 2022 for Shopify), and to continue growing strongly in the years to come. On the other hand, eBay earned strong profits of $1.8 billion last year, but is only expected to grow those profits at about 11.5% annually over the next five years — a respectable rate to be sure, but less than half the projected growth rate for Shopify, for example. (And MercadoLibre is expected to grow even faster.)

Examining their options, it appears that today investors are ignoring the advice of Loop Capital, and placing their bets on riskier, unprofitable fast-growers, rather than sticking with more tried-and-true, already profitable plodders like eBay. This strategy worked great last year, but hasn’t worked out so well for investors over the past few weeks.

Buyers of Shopify and MercadoLibre stock, though, appear to be betting that it will resume working for them in the weeks to come.

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Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends MercadoLibre and Shopify. The Motley Fool recommends eBay and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $18 calls on eBay and short January 2021 $37 calls on eBay. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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