eBay, Inc. Earnings Tell a Story of 2 Companies

eBay  just released third-quarter results after the bell Wednesday, and the market isn't happy.

Shares of eBay initially fell around 4% during after-hours trading after the auctioneer announced that third-quarter revenue climbed 11.8% year over year to $4.353 billion. That translated to adjusted earnings of $0.68 per diluted share, or 6% growth over the same year-ago period. Analysts, on average, were looking for lower earnings of $0.67 per share, but on slightly higher revenue of $4.37 billion.

That wouldn't have been so bad all by itself, but eBay also said it expects revenue for the current quarter in the range of $4.85 billion to $4.95 billion, with adjusted earnings per diluted share of $0.88 to $0.91. The midpoint of both ranges fell short of Wall Street's expectations for revenue and earnings of $5.16 billion and $0.91 per share, respectively.

Consequently, eBay also lowered its full-year revenue guidance to a range of $17.85 billion to $17.95 billion. Again, that's below consensus estimates that called for $18.15 billion, and down from eBay's previous guidance range of $18.0 billion to $18.3 billion.

Here's what happened
During the subsequent conference call, management placed the blame for the mixed results and weak guidance on a combination of a stronger-than-expected U.S. dollar, and an impeded second-half recovery for eBay Marketplaces. To be sure, Marketplaces revenue of $2.156 billion represented 6% growth over last year, which CEO John Donahoe admitted was "neither what we wanted nor what we expected."

Donahoe elaborated that while eBay Marketplaces continues to enjoy strong cash flow and healthy segment margins -- 35.9% this quarter, compared with 20.9% for the payments segment -- "it's clearly facing some near-term challenges." Specifically, he says, eBay is still working to combat the extended fallout of both negative search engine optimization changes from Google and a cyber attack last quarter that led eBay to ask all 233 million of its Marketplaces users to reset their passwords.

Management also said fourth-quarter guidance includes a significant increase in sales and marketing spending to support initiatives to re-engage those users. On a more positive note, management also said it expects to partially offset the expected EPS decline with tight cost controls and more favorable tax rates to close the year.

In addition, eBay is beginning to implement a new SEO approach to capitalize on its status as the "world's largest collection of unstructured data." SEO is still a small source of eBay's total traffic, but it's a particularly effective source of new eBay users. The caveat? It takes time to implement a revamped SEO strategy. But it should be worthwhile, as management's stated end goal is to reduce future SEO-related volatility.

It wasn't all bad
Meanwhile, PayPal continued its outperforming ways, as net revenue grew 20% year over year to $1.95 billion. PayPal net total payment volume grew 29%, including on-eBay volume growth of 9% and Merchant Services volume up 37% -- the latter of which is up from 35% in Q2 and marks its sixth consecutive quarterly acceleration.

That said, both of eBay's core businesses also enjoyed double-digit customer growth: Active PayPal user accounts increased 14% to 157 million, and active Marketplaces buyers increased 13% 152 million.

Mobile is another source of strength, as mobile volume for Marketplaces and PayPal grew 41% to $7 billion and 72% to $12 billion, respectively. That represents a full 20% of the TVP for PayPal, which is now on track to process 1 billion mobile transactions this year alone.

One more thing ...
Perhaps most importantly, Donahoe offered just a little additional insight on the company's thinking with regard to the impending split of eBay and PayPal:

Rapidly changing competitive environments in commerce and payments underscore the opportunities for eBay and PayPal and highlight how each business will benefit from the focus and agility of being an independent company. [...] As we prepare to separate eBay and PayPal in 2015, our teams are focused on strong execution to ensure each business is set up for long-term success.

Those "changing competitive environments" are a not-so-subtle reference to the launch of new payment and commerce solutions such as Apple Pay and Amazon.com's Local Register. But rather than buckling under the competitive pressure, eBay insists that these solutions will raise consumer awareness of mobile commerce and thus expand its addressable market. When that happens, both eBay and PayPal should -- at least in theory -- be able to better seize that opportunity operating as more flexible independent companies.

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The article eBay, Inc. Earnings Tell a Story of 2 Companies originally appeared on Fool.com.

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