eBay posts strong results, cautious on holiday outlook

18 Oct, 2012

EBay Inc  reported strong quarterly results on Wednesday, but the e-commerce company gave a cautious forecast for the crucial holiday season amid a brewing price war between big retailers and rival Inc .

EBay said third-quarter revenue rose 15 per cent to $3.4 billion, while profit climbed 14 per cent to $718 million, or 55 cents a share, compared with 48 cents last year. The revenue matched Wall Street estimates, while profit beat by a penny.

EBay forecast fourth-quarter revenue of $3.85 billion to $4 billion and profit of 66 cents to 69 cents per share. Wall Street was looking for fourth-quarter earnings of 68 cents a share on revenue of $3.94 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

EBay shares fluctuated between small gains and losses in after-hours trading following the results.

"Not as overpowering a beat as the last couple of quarters, but they do appear on track," said Gil Luria, an analyst at Wedbush Securities.

Some analysts expected eBay to lift its fourth-quarter forecast a lot, but that did not happen.

"Given that there had been a lot of momentum in eBay and PayPal's businesses, expectations may have gotten ahead of themselves," said RJ Hottovy, an equity analyst at Morningstar.

EBay may be giving a cautious outlook for the holiday season because big retailers including Target Corpand Best Buy Co Inc are planning to match Amazon's online prices, Hottovy noted. This price tussle may put more shoppers and revenue up for grabs during the fourth quarter, he added.

"It's probably wise for eBay to err on the side of caution because of this price competition," Hottovy added.

Bob Swan, eBay's chief financial officer, told analysts during a conference call that the company expected an "OK" holiday season, with continued macro-economic pressure in Europe from the sovereign debt crisis and recession that is denting consumer demand

EBay shares have jumped so far this year, outpacing those of Amazon, on optimism that growth has resumed at the Marketplaces business and on hope for an expansion of PayPal from its online roots into physical stores.

EBay's online marketplace, one of the largest in the world, has lagged behind the growth of e-commerce and for several years. But under Chief Executive John Donahoe, eBay has invested to improve the buying experience by upgrading search capabilities and prodding sellers to provide more services such as free shipping and easier returns.

The explosive growth of mobile shopping has also attracted hundreds of thousands of new consumers to eBay's marketplace this year.

In the third quarter, about 800,000 shoppers made their first-ever eBay purchase through a mobile device, CEO Donahoe told analysts during the conference call.

"While I'm pleased with the acceleration, I'm not satisfied," he added. "There's no reason why our active users should not double over the next three to five years."

That growth will be driven by improvements in personalized product recommendations, expansion in countries including Brazil and Russia and chasing opportunities in local commerce, the CEO said.

EBay unveiled a redesign of its website earlier this month, which included more personalized product recommendations and faster PayPal checkout. The changes could boost sales in coming quarters, but some analysts also worry that the changes may also disrupt online shopping during the crucial holiday season.

Donahoe said on Wednesday that eBay will only roll out website changes that have already tested well with shoppers.