Golf Clap for eBay, Inc.'s Solid (and Surprising) 4th-Quarter Results

By Markets Fool.com

It's time to put down your paddles, eBay investors, because your favorite online auction and payment specialist just reported solid quarterly results.

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Specifically, shares of eBay rose over 3% in Wednesday's after-hours trading after it said fourth-quarter revenue climbed 9% year over year to $4.92 billion. That translated to adjusted net income of $1.11 billion, or $0.90 per share. Analysts, on average, were looking for revenue and earnings of $4.93 billion and $0.89 per share, respectively.

For the current quarter, eBay expects net revenue of $4.35 billion to $4.45 billion, with adjusted earnings per diluted share of $0.68 to $0.71. Both ranges are below analysts' expectations, which call for earnings of $0.76 per share on sales of $4.7 billion. For the full year 2015, eBay sees net revenue in the range of $18.6 billion to $19.1 billion, with adjusted earnings per share of $3.05 to $3.15. Again, even the high end of both ranges is below Wall Street's estimates for revenue of $19.97 billion, and earnings of $3.26 per share.

But eBay also said its board authorized an additional $2 billion stock repurchase program this month, which brings its total authorization to $3 billion. In addition to offsetting dilution from its equity compensation programs, eBay will use this massive buyback program to opportunistically reduce its share count throughout the year.

Of course, eBay's business is much more than just revenue, earnings, and stock buybacks, which is why I posed three questionsfor the company going into the report. Here's what eBay had to say.

More of the same weakness from eBay Marketplaces
First, I wondered whether we'd see any progress from eBay's efforts to bolster its sluggish Marketplaces segment, growth from which was just 6% last quarter despite a 9% year over year increase in gross merchandise volume, or GMV, and a 13% increase in active Marketplaces buyers.

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Alas, Marketplaces revenue in Q4 climbed just 1% over the same year-ago period to $2.33 billion. That result was aided by both 2% GMV growth and an 11% increase in active buyers to 155 million, but hurt once again by a combination of the strong U.S. dollar, ongoing SEO challenges following an algorithm change by Google last year, and lower traffic stemming from sign-on friction after eBay initiated a global password reset following a massive cyber attack last May.

But eBay also insists it's still taking "decisive action" to address these challenges and accelerate growth, including the prioritization of resources to focus on core shoppers, and "doubling down on areas of strength like [its] $2 billion GMV Deals business."

That said, eBay Enterprise fared better, growing both revenue and gross merchandise sales by 9% to $443 million and $1.927 billion, respectively. Within that, Enterprise signed up over 1,000 new clients and renewed or extended its relationships with over 1,700 others in 2014.

Continued strength from PayPal
Next, I wanted to know whether PayPal would continue to outperform its auction-centric sibling.

Sure enough, PayPal's net revenue jumped 18% to $2.16 billion. For that, investors can thank 13% growth in active registered accounts to 162 million, net total payment volume growth of 24%, and Merchant Services volume growth of 33%. Mobile payment volume was again a source of strength, growing 58% to $45.6 billion to represent around 20% of eBay's total volume.

All told, PayPal achieved25% growth in total transactions in Q4 and handled over 3.6 billion transactions over the course of 2014.

(Surprising) progress on the split
Finally, I was watching closely for any updates on the progress of eBay's impending business split. eBay didn't disappoint.

eBay CEO John Donahoe began by saying, "Looking ahead, our plans are on track to separate eBay and PayPal into independent companies in the second half of 2015, and we are confident this is the right strategic path for each business."

That effort will start with the simplification of each company's organizational structure, which during the first quarter entails a reduction in eBay's global workforce of approximately 2,400 positions, or roughly 7% of its total employees across Marketplaces, PayPal, and Enterprise.

eBay's press release also says the company will explore "strategic options for eBay Enterprise, including a sale or IPO." Specifically, eBay thinks Enterprise could be a good fit for large retailers, given its status as one of their leading partners in e-commerce, and a strong business in its own right. To explain its rationale, eBay points out that "it has become clear [that Enterprise] has limited synergies with either business and [that] a separation will allow both to focus exclusively on their core markets."

Finally, eBay announced that it has entered into an agreement with Carl Icahn, the company's largest active shareholder. In exchange, eBay has agreed to "certain governance provisions to be adopted by PayPal as an independent company," as well as to appoint Icahn Capital executive Jonathan Christodoro to eBay's current board. Through the agreement, Icahn will also be able to determine on which board Christodoro will serve once eBay and PayPal officially separate.

All things considered, eBay has certainly given investors plenty of new information to chew on. Given the combination of its solid fourth-quarter results, impending job cuts (however unfortunate), and the possibility of profitably divesting eBay Enterprise, it's little surprise the market is willing to forgive eBay's lighter-than-expected guidance.

The article Golf Clap for eBay, Inc.'s Solid (and Surprising) 4th-Quarter Results originally appeared on Fool.com.

Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends American Express, eBay, and Google (A and C shares) and owns shares of Capital One Financial., eBay, and Google (A and C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.