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That thud you hear could be eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY ) fundamentals finally hitting bottom.
A pair of brokerage reports are waxing optimistically on the online marketplace giant. Analysts at Jefferies & Co. and Collins Stewart believe that the company's struggling auction platform is finally turning the corner, even if the namesake site may not return to its former glory right away.
This is huge news. eBay's auction business has been the parent company's sandbag, albatross, or anchor (depending on where you rest your hat when it comes to metaphors). Getting its marketplace division pointing in the right direction would lessen the load on the dot-com giant's better-performing subsidiaries to make eBay a growth stock again.
Remember eBay's last quarter? PayPal and Skype delivered 7% and 21% gains on the top line, respectively. Unfortunately, an 18% year-over-year revenue plunge in eBay's marketplace business was enough to find revenue and earnings clocking in lower than they did a year ago.
Stability -- even if it's simply sequential stability -- would be an encouraging achievement. As MercadoLibre (Nasdaq: MELI ) continues to prove through Latin America, there is still growth to be had in running a successful online marketplace.
There's clearly nothing wrong with PayPal. It remains the online transaction enabler of choice for more than 73 million active registered users. It will never be Visa (NYSE: V ) or MasterCard (NYSE: MA ) , but it doesn't have to be. It can carve out a cozy living swapping funds, virtually.
Skype is the small speedster, but eBay is already committed to unloading the popular voice-chat platform. Whether it gets spun out to shareholders or sold to a hungry bidder, it's leaving the roost. And don't underestimate the demand: Just because eBay never found a way for the puzzle piece to fit, that doesn't mean a fading teclo wouldn't love to get its hands on Skype. Even Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) would be a sweet fit, as a way to scale its nascent Google Voice service in a hurry.
It's true that eBay's stock has raced ahead of its fundamentals lately. The stock has soared 66% since bottoming out in March, even as analysts see it posting lower profitability when it steps up to the quarterly earnings stage in two weeks. However, the stock was trading much higher a few years ago, when eBay and PayPal were a lot smaller.
What if these two analysts are right? What if eBay is about to surprise us by breathing new life into its meandering auction website? The stock's rally over the past four months has been impressive, but that rally would be only the beginning if eBay bounces back as a growth-stock story that Mr. Market figured wouldn't have a happy ending.
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