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United Online: Multiple Investing Personalities

Despite its moniker, United Online (Nasdaq: UNTD  ) has several split personalities.

  • Income investors will warm up to its $0.20 quarterly dividend, gracing the stock with a fat 5.1% yield.
  • Value investors may appreciate the breakup value, especially with the company ready to take Classmates Media public.
  • Growth investors can rally around a profitable dot-com company, despite weakness at NetZero and Juno.

Yes, United Online can tug you in different directions. Last week's report found the company posting a 2% dip in revenue to $126.8 million, but don't call the company's performance flat. Its Classmates alumni-networking website and the MyPoints online loyalty program combined to grow at a 37% clip. That was more than offset by an 18% dip on the NetZero and Juno Web-access front.

Thankfully, the margins are better on Classmates and MyPoints. Despite the top-line decline, net income inched 4% higher to $14 million, or $0.20 a share. Back out stock compensation and amortization, and you'll get $0.29 per share.

At this point, income investors can exhale -- the chunky dividend is covered.

However, the company's decision to take Classmates Media public earlier this year -- an IPO that will include both and MyPoints -- makes the quarter's strength there important. That kind of growth will impress investors, especially once the division in question is carved out as a stand-alone company, freed from the NetZero and Juno funks.

In this case, United's parts may be worth more than the company itself, positioning investors nicely to cash in on a successful IPO. It certainly doesn't hurt that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) has people believing -- somehow -- that Facebook is worth $15 billion. United Online's market cap is about $1 billion, and that's before you back out $205 million -- or about $3 a share -- in cash and short-term investments. Classmates isn't in the same social-networking league as Facebook, News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace, or even Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Orkut in terms of traffic, but it's hard to deny the advertiser appeal of reaching out to college grads.

It's easy to see why United Online has been held back in the past. Internet access is a dying business. Earthlink (Nasdaq: ELNK  ) and Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) AOL are suffering, and so is United Online. Its subscriber base has shrunk from 2.7 million to 2.2 million over the past year.

But now it's time for the company's sexier content offerings to take the stage. Classmates and MyPoints have grown to account for 41% of the revenue pie. With every passing quarter, the higher-gross-margin content and media properties will be more material, weighted contributors.

The pros don't see it that way. They see United Online's top and bottom lines heading slightly lower next year, valuing shares at a reasonable 16 times forward earnings. Once the market begins to appreciate United Online as a content company -- which should happen after the IPO, given the company's majority stake in what's left of Classmates Media -- it won't be long before it begins to command the loftier multiples you find in high-margin Web content players.

That's when United Online's yield will shrink -- but only because capital appreciation has taken over.

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