Zillow Group Inc Earnings: Is Trulia Trouble or Treasure?

By Markets Fool.com

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Source: Zillow Group Inc

Zillow Group Inc reported earnings Tuesday, missing on the top line but beating on the bottom. With the Trulia acquisition in the past, will this real estate stock soar higher than ever before? Here's what you need to know.

The Numbers
Zillow Group Inc gave investors reasons to both grin and grumble. On the top line, Q1 2015 sales clocked in at $127.3 million, well below analysts' expectations of $135.7 million in revenue. Compared to Q1 2014's $66.2 million, this quarter's sales are nearly double that amount.

But on the bottom line, Zillow Group Inc surprised a bit to the upside. The company reported a Q1 2015 adjusted earnings loss of $0.05. That's better than Wall Street's prediction of a $0.12 loss but worse than Q1 2014's $0.02 earnings. Since fiscal 2013, Zillow Group Inc has managed to exceed earnings expectations for six of the nine quarters.

Beyond the numbers
Zillow Group Inc is undeniably a growth stock, and examining quarterly financial performance can only tell investors so much. Right now, Zillow wants to get bigger faster profits will come later.

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The company made its most memorable expansion to date just three months ago when it acquired competitor Trulia for $2.5 billion in stock. To put things in perspective, a buyout of this proportion in the beverages industry would be like The Coca-Cola Cobuying PepsiCo.

Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff called it "a pivotal day in online real estate," and has since made significant moves to streamline services. While the two entities will continue to operate as separate brands, their information and operations will quietly combine under one roof, enabling Zillow Group to cut redundant costs and enjoy economies of scale like never before.

In this latest quarterly update, nearly 140 million unique users visited Zillow, Trulia or its two other subsidiaries StreetEasy and HotPads in March. But perhaps more importantly, the combination of Zillow and Trulia removes an advertising choice some real estate agents used to make: Zillow or Trulia. As Rascoff put it:

Our already massive audience of home shoppers continues to grow throughout our network of brands, and we are rapidly recognizing the benefits of scale. We have integrated the Zillow mortgage and rentals products into Trulia, giving our advertisers and partners access to an even wider consumer audience. And most importantly, we are on track to combine our agent advertising business by the end of 2015, setting us up to fully realize the potential of Zillow Group's huge and growing audience.

Now, 100% of listings are directly received by Zillow Group The company also took this quarterly opportunity to update investors on a new wave of multiple listing services (MLS) agreements. Since January 2015, the Group has signed 235 new agreements, the equivalent of adding hundreds of thousands of agents and listings to its sites. This is important because it allows Zillow Group to continue to build out its network, but it's even more important because it puts it further out of reach of competitor ListHub's MLS channels. Since April, Zillow has been going it alone, no longer receiving any MLS listings from the News Corp -owned entity. And in keeping with its simple interface for housing searches, Zillow has created an easy-to-use "Data Dashboard" platform for realtors to manage their listings:

Source: Zillow Group Inc

Buy Zillow?
Zillow Group Inc stock has barely budged in the past 12 months, and its four-year performance is peanuts compared to the S&P 500 .

Z Chart

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Part of Zillow's lackluster performance is likely due to risk: Zillow is creating its own online real estate industry, and investors aren't sure what to make of it or how to value it. Zillow certainly isn't helping, considering it's essentially ignored any interest in pursuing steady sales and profits.

Instead, the company continues to head straight into the storm. Its Trulia acquisition represents almost half its entire current market cap, and the company will continue to incur massive costs as it grows. But Zillow is finally reaching a scale where it's beginning to lay a formidable foundation. In Q1 2015, over 50% of its growth in monthly revenue per advertiser came from agents that have been with Zillow for a year or more. Existing advertisers were also responsible for more than 60% of advertising package orders this past quarter.

CEO Spencer Rascoff believes the best is yet to come. He calculates the real estate advertising market at $13 billion, meaning Zillow has only captured around 3% of its market. I believe he's right and, as a Zillow shareholder myself, am in it for the long haul. This past quarter passed my financial test and pleasantly surprised me on the game-changing growth and market metrics I'm most interested in. With a reaffirmation of its fiscal 2015 outlook, I'm excited to see what this Zillow stock has in store.

The article Zillow Group Inc Earnings: Is Trulia Trouble or Treasure? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Justin Loiseau owns shares of Zillow Group and has an extreme dislike for Craigslist.com's interface. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Zillow Group. The Motley Fool owns shares of PepsiCo and Zillow Group and has the following options: long January 2016 $37 calls on Coca-Cola and short January 2016 $37 puts on Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.