EBay Inc. Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman on Thursday promised investors that faster growth and market share gains lay ahead, but left the company's near-term outlook unchanged as international sales growth slows and it steps up investments in new businesses.
Speaking at the San Jose-based company's annual analysts' meeting, Whitman said revenue would grow around 31 percent this year to between $5.7 billion to $5.9 billion, reaffirming a forecast that disappointed Wall Street last month, sending shares down 9 percent the following day.
We plan to grow our revenues even faster and gain share in our addressable markets, over the longer term, Whitman said, without giving details.
But six hours of executive presentations -- including 321 slides detailing the company's businesses -- did little to soothe investor concerns over maturing growth in its core auctions business, and eBay Nasdaq shares ended the day off 6 cents at $34.11.
Whitman said the company's best growth opportunity was cross-selling between its three main businesses -- eBay auctions and shopping, PayPal online payments and Skype Web telephone service -- which she dubbed the power of three.
Piper Jaffray analyst Safa Rashtchy said PayPal remained the most promising part of eBay's businesses in the near-term. But he was pessimistic whether eBay could gain market share in the overall e-commerce business as rivals such as Google Inc. target its markets.
EBay will find it hard to gain share in e-commerce, Rashtchy said at the sidelines of the analyst meeting. But PayPal looks set to continue to gain market share, he said.
Executives said PayPal will step up investments in order roughly to double the number of markets to 105 countries where it offers the online payment service and increase the different currencies in which it accepts payments to 17 from seven now.
PayPal is eBay's fastest-expanding major business, growing 44 percent to $335.1 million in revenue last quarter from a year earlier and topped $1 billion for the first time in 2005.
Investors have been looking for increases in international revenue to offset the maturation of eBay's U.S. business, which is now growing around 20 percent a year.
Bob Swan, the company's recently hired chief financial officer, reiterated that the company's operating profit margin will dip to 33 percent during 2006, but said that margins should accelerate to 35 percent or more over the long term.
EBay sees long-term operating margins of 35 percent to 40 percent in its core e-commerce business of connecting buyers and selling online and 20 percent to 25 percent margins for PayPal and Skype, its two newer, faster-growing businesses.
Executives surprised analysts by disclosing that eBay users make an average of 345 million daily searches, which puts the site in a league with Google in terms of search activity.
The company is studying how to make more money from this vast audience, including click-to-call links, where customers can start a live phone call to a sales representative, simply by clicking on Web links next to eBay listings.
But Matt Bannick, president of eBay International, warned that growth overseas is slowing as markets mature in Europe, and due to competitive pressures in key Asian markets in South Korea and China.
First-quarter international revenue growth slowed to 31 percent from 43 percent a year earlier, while Europe -- which accounts for four-fifths of all international revenue -- slid to a 32 percent growth rate last quarter from 42 percent.
In Asia, eBay's South Korea business, Internet Auction, faces mounting competition in a market it has long dominated, he said. EBay is also struggling to find its footing in China, where Yahoo Inc.'s partner Alibaba.com boasts upward of 70 percent of the business-to-business auction market.