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Buy LinkedIn before earnings: Goldman

Reid Hoffman, founder and chairman of Linkedin, at the 2015 WEF in Davos, Switzerland.
David A. Grogan | CNBC

LinkedIn, the social network often overshadowed by Twitter and Facebook stealing headlines, is a "buy" before earnings later this week as new products take hold and mobile advertising improves, according to Goldman Sachs.

The firm, which has correctly called the run in the stock over the last two years, sees an additional 25 percent upside from here.

"While we believe guidance should be typically conservative, we expect the Sales Navigator product cycle, improving mobile monetization, due in part to Bizo, continued strength in the Recruiter business, and meaningful margin expansion should drive upside beyond consensus revenue and EPS estimates over the course of 2015," wrote Heath Terry of Goldman, which added the stock to its "Conviction Buy List."

"Longer term, we believe the value of LinkedIn as a network of high-value professionals with all of the data, content and engagement involved will continue to drive recruiters, salespeople and advertisers to the platform in a way that will create significant value for shareholders."

Goldman is predicting a 43 percent increase in fourth-quarter revenue to $634 million, above Wall Street consensus of $617 million. The company is scheduled to report Thursday after the bell.

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LinkedIn shares are quietly up 7 percent over the last 12 months compared to a 22 percent gain by Facebook and 42 percent drop in shares of Twitter. Longer term, LinkedIn shares have gained 115 percent since the 2012 IPO of Facebook, whose shares are up 95 percent over the same period.

"LinkedIn continues to lag other major advertising platforms in significantly narrowing the gap between mobile as a percentage of ad revenue and as a percentage of traffic for a variety of reasons. The acquisition of Bizo, and its potential to grow into LinkedIn's version of Facebook's FBX or Twitter's MoPub, in July should help accelerate the narrowing of that gap."

An improving jobs picture should be a tail wind for LinkedIn, according to Goldman and other analysts. The January jobs report due out Friday should show a nonfarm payrolls increase of 230,000, according to FactSet. The unemployment rate is expected to be 5.6 percent, down from 6.6 percent a year ago.

"Talent growth deceleration should slow as it benefits from the improving jobs environment and as the company begins to annualize changes to its jobs listings product," stated the note.

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The firm's 12-month price target was raised to $280 from $250 based on Goldman's expectations for LinkedIn to trade for 35 times its estimated enterprise value/EBITDA ratio. The rest of Wall Street has an average price target of $251, according to FactSet.

Goldman's conviction list trailed the market last year, gaining just 10 percent, according to a study just released in this week's Barron's. However, the favored-stocks list beat the gains of similar broker portfolios, which returned just 7 percent last year, according to the publication.