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Jan 21, 2010
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EBay beats in quarter on PayPal, e-commerce growth

Jan 21, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - EBay Inc forecast 2010 results above expectations after posting double-digit revenue growth in PayPal and its main online marketplaces unit, sending shares up 8 percent.

The company, which is in the midst of a turnaround as it battles Amazon.com and other retailers, also beat Wall Street profit estimates in its closely scrutinized holiday quarter.

EBay, which connects buyers and sellers over the Internet, has been overhauling its main marketplaces division to increase transactions on its site. Revenue rose 15 percent at that unit during the quarter.

Gross merchandise volume, which measures the total value of goods sold on eBay, rose 24 percent. That marked a huge improvement over the negative trends seen earlier in 2009.

EBay said it expects full-year 2010 adjusted earnings of $1.63 to $1.68 per share on revenue of $8.8 billion to $9.1 billion. That was above the $1.60 per share expected, on average, by Wall Street analysts.

"It's fair to say a turnaround is taking shape," said Morningstar analyst Larry Witt, calling the results the best in at least a year. "You're going to see more of the same (in 2010)."

"Pay Pal is hitting the ball out of the park," he added.

That fast-growing Web payments unit, which represents more than a third of overall revenue, saw a 28 percent revenue rise during the quarter.

Gains in marketplaces, which includes Shopping.com, StubHub and other e-commerce units, were driven by more sold items and more goods purchased for fixed prices, rather than in an auction format.

The company has sought to increase selection, enhance security and make it easier to buyers and sellers to conduct transactions on the site. A lower tax rate and a stronger U.S. dollar also helped results in the quarter.

"We are cautiously optimistic about slow, steady progress in the global economy," said eBay Chief Executive John Donahoe on a conference call.

Fourth-quarter net profit was $1.4 billion, or $1.02 per share, up from $367 million, or 29 cents per share, a year earlier.

On an adjusted basis, profit was $585.8 million, or 44 cents per share -- above analysts' average forecast of 40 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenue rose 16 percent to $2.37 billion, also beating Wall Street expectations.

Revenue rose 11 percent in the United States and 21 percent internationally.

EBay sold the bulk of its Skype Web telephone unit, deemed a bad fit with the company, for about $1.9 billion in November to an investor group. EBay retains a 30 percent stake in Skype.

But litigation expenses related to Skype, together with costs from the acquisition of Korean e-commerce site GMarket, sent operating margins down. They fell to 7.6 percent in the quarter from 22.3 percent a year earlier. On an adjusted basis, margins fell to 29.3 percent from 32.8 percent.


Analysts have been looking for signs that measures taken by eBay to turn around its business are bearing fruit after years of sluggish growth. But some, including Benjamin Schachter, senior Internet analyst with Broadpoint Amtech, say the strength of any rebound is still too early to gauge.

Facing eBay in 2010 is continued competition from Amazon.com and other retailers, and a consumer spending environment that is still under pressure.

Shares of eBay rose 69 percent in 2009, buoyed by early signs of a turnaround in its marketplaces division, where growth has slowed in recent years. But they are off a year high of $25.80 in late October on concerns that a still-weak economy would weigh on growth.

Shares rose to $24.05 after closing on the Nasdaq at $22.23, down 4.4 percent during the regular session.

"The guidance here is pretty good but we have to see how the turnaround takes shape," Schachter said.

But "people are pleased to see things are actually pretty good and they are benefiting from the macro environment."

(Reporting by Alexandria Sage; Additional reporting by Gina Keating; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Gary Hill)

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