EBay posts 3Q profit, but outlook below forecasts

By: AP
By: AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- EBay Inc. posted a third-quarter profit that beat analyst forecasts Wednesday, but its lower-than-expected fourth-quarter outlook indicated the online auction site operator is not immune to the slowing economy.

The San Jose, Calif.-based company's shares fell 58 cents, or 3.8 percent, in after-hours trading, after finishing regular trading down $2.41, or 13.6 percent, at $15.33.

The fourth quarter is "going to be a challenging retail environment and we want to drive demand for eBay sellers," eBay Chief Executive John Donahoe said in an interview.

The company plans to work on this by spending more on sales and marketing during the period.

For the third quarter, the company had said last week that due to the weakened economy and strengthened dollar its per-share profit would be higher than it had predicted in July, but revenue would be near the low end of its expectations.

This was reflected in the results, as eBay earned $492 million, or 38 cents per share, in the quarter that ended Sept. 30. In the year-ago period, eBay reported a loss of $936 million, or 69 cents per share, stemming from charges to its Skype telecommunications unit.

Excluding one-time items, eBay earned 46 cents per share - five cents higher than analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected.

Revenue rose 12 percent to $2.12 billion, a bit lower than the $2.13 billion analysts anticipated.

Sales from the company's marketplace segment - which includes eBay, Shopping.com, StubHub and other e-commerce sites - rose more than 4 percent to $1.38 billion.

The company's PayPal unit logged much higher growth - 27 percent, with revenue rising to $597 million.

EBay's number of new listings jumped 26 percent year over year to 700 million. But the number of active users - which is an important measure of how well it is doing bringing in new buyers and sellers - rose just 3 percent in the quarter to 85.7 million.

Analysts were troubled by eBay's third-quarter gross merchandise volume, which refers to the total amount of money that flows from transactions on the site, as it declined for the first time, dipping almost 1 percent to $14.3 billion.

"Granted, what's going on around us in terms of the macroeconomic landscape and heading toward a recession has to have some effect on the GMV, that's a given, but you don't really know how much is due to the overall economy versus what is company-specific," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Stephen Ju.

During the company's quarterly conference call with analysts, Donahoe said the metric "was not what we would have liked but we remain confident in our overall direction and believe we're on the right path."

Going forward, EBay cut its full-year outlook, which put its fourth-quarter expectations well below analysts'. Among other things, eBay cited costly upcoming acquisitions and cuts to 10 percent of its workforce.

For the year, eBay now expects earnings of $1.69 to $1.71 per share on an adjusted basis. It's also looking for $8.53 billion to $8.68 billion in revenue.

The company had previously expected a profit of $1.72 to $1.77 per share on an adjusted basis, and $8.8 billion to $9.05 billion in revenue.

Given this, the company is looking for a fourth-quarter profit, excluding items, of 39 cents to 41 cents per share in the period, compared with 45 cents in the fourth quarter of 2007. When excluding items, analysts had anticipated a profit of 47 cents per share.

The company also sees its revenue dipping, predicting $2.02 billion to $2.17 billion in revenue. EBay's revenue totaled $2.18 billion in the year-ago quarter.

Analysts were expecting $2.43 billion in revenue.

"I think as the company tries to reinvigorate the core marketplaces platform it's encountering more headwinds, and surely the fourth-quarter guidance is reflecting a deteriorating consumer spending environment," Ju said.

And beyond that, Donahoe is not sure how long economic issues will persist.

"The thing about periods like this - and this is probably the third or fourth recession in my career - is you never know how long they'll last or how deep they'll go," he said.

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