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Wall Street Beat: Internet stocks under the gun

Marc Ferranti | May 5, 2014
Twitter, LinkedIn and eBay quarterly earnings show what Internet companies are up against.

It was the company's second earnings report as a pubic entity. Like other Internet company CEOs, Twitter chief Dick Costolo stressed top-line growth.

"Revenue growth accelerated on a year over year basis fueled by increased engagement and user growth," said Costolo in a statement. "We also continue to rapidly increase our reach and scale."

But underneath the revenue increase, there appeared to be a slowdown in the expansion of the company's user base.

Twitter's active user base increased 25 percent to 255 million, slipping from 30 percent during the prior quarter. A measure of how active its users are, "timeline views," reached 157 billion in the first quarter, an increase of 15 percent. But that was a drop from a 26 percent growth rate the previous quarter. Analysts are questioning Twitter's ability to increase its user base to anywhere near what Facebook has, about 1.25 billion users.

Twitter shares lost $3.65 to close at $38.97 the day after its earnings announcement. During the afternoon Friday, Twitter shares gained some ground, trading at $39.58, but that's still significantly below its peak of $73.31 on Dec. 26.

Also reporting Tuesday, eBay's story was the familiar one: a sales gain but a net loss essentially caused by the need to spend money to grow.

Revenue for the first quarter increased 14 percent year over year to $4.3 billion. But the company suffered a $2.3 billion loss, compared to a profit of $677 million a year earlier.

The nominal reason for the vertiginous drop from profit to loss was unusual: it was due to taxes incurred to repatriate $9 billion in overseas earnings that weren't previously subject to U.S. taxes. The bill to bring the cash back to the U.S.: $3 billion. It was an unusual move because most big U.S. tech companies, which almost all are global in scope, have billions of dollars in overseas coffers that they do not touch, precisely because they do not want to incur the huge tax burden to bring the money home.

The underlying reason for eBay's move is familiar: the need to spend money to grow. As eBay CEO John Donahoe said in a statement, the move was made with an eye to "increasing our available U.S. cash and enhancing our financial flexibility."

As with other Internet companies that depend on a mass user base, growth is the big concern.

"We are executing our growth plans, capitalizing on the synergies in our portfolio," Donahoe said.

But the company said that second-quarter revenue will be $4.33 billion to $4.43 billion, with the potential to fall behind the average analyst projection of $4.4 billion, as surveyed by Bloomberg.


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