Analysts May Be Neutral, but eBay CEO Donahoe Is Feeling Good

Not bad. Nice. Solid. Not exceptional. Prudent.

Photo Credit: eBay

Those are all words being used to describe eBay’s third quarter. But while the analysts are skeptical about whether eBay can keep up the growth it has enjoyed over the past two years, CEO John Donahoe says he’s feeling better about the company than he has in a while.

“The company is in the strongest position it has been in for many years,” Donahoe said in an interview. “And I think with what’s happening in the world of commerce, it plays well to our strengths and capabilities. I think we are a stronger company, more innovative and more customer-focused and getting better every day.”

In the third quarter, eBay hit the high end of its guidance and raised its outlook for the year, but since it has a track record of beating forecasts by a lot, analysts were hesitant to call the quarter a home run.

Mark Mahaney of Citi, which has a “neutral” rating on the stock, called eBay’s results “solid, but not exceptional,” and “slightly soft” because “this company has exceeded the high-end of its guidance for eight straight quarters.” Colin Sebastian of Baird Equity Research, who has an “outperform” rating and a price target of $58, was also reluctant to say the company was on fire: “Although management raised the implied guidance range for Q4, the midpoint of revenue guidance is slightly below consensus, which we believe is prudently cautious at this point ahead of the holiday spending ramp.”

Still, investors pushed eBay’s stock up $2.24, or 4.6 percent, to $50.44 a share in midday trading, putting it close to the company’s 52-week high of $50.65 a share.

In reaction to analysts’ neutral stance on the stock, Donahoe said: “We’ve beaten our guidance every quarter for I’m not sure how many quarters — and we beat it again this quarter. We are having a strong year, and our share price is up for the year, but you know how it is, there’s always a hope that it goes higher and higher. Our growth rates have been very steady; we don’t overly worry about that.”

Part of Donahoe’s confidence stems from the work eBay has done over the past year to overhaul its marketplaces business. The turnaround has included fixing the back-end technology and revamping the design, including a new logo and homepage redesign. This holiday, eBay will use TV commercials to help get the word out that it’s a new eBay. The tagline being used is, “From the new to the hard to find, when it’s on your mind, it’s on eBay.” PayPal, which also has updated its look and feel, is running an online marketing campaign featuring actor Jeff Goldblum.

In the third quarter, all three of the company’s divisions grew: PayPal’s revenue jumped 23 percent year over year, marketplace revenue grew by 9 percent, and its GSI division increased by 12 percent. In addition, it sees new opportunities to grow revenue by helping brick-and-mortar stores like Toys “R” Us and Macy’s compete online. It is also expanding into in-store payments through PayPal. As Donahoe likes to say, if PayPal captures just 1 percent of the offline payments market, it will double in size.

During the company’s conference call yesterday, Donahoe confirmed rumors that PayPal is undergoing a restructuring, which could result in layoffs. He said the new structure is designed to consolidate its product groups from nine to one. “Here’s the way to think about it — customers want a seamless experience across the Web, online and offline,” he said. If that’s the case, then those product groups should not be separate. He reiterated that it has nothing to do with cost reductions. “While it’s true there will be reductions, we are committed to accelerating the pace of innovation,” he said. “We aren’t seeking cost reductions — this is 100 percent about streamlining the creation of great products.”

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