Big, Bad, Bucking Bankrate

Times are tight in the financial-services industry, and Bankrate (Nasdaq: RATE  ) couldn't be happier.

Shares of Bankrate bucked yesterday's downward trend, climbing 4% after the company posted better-than-expected third-quarter profits. (Contrast that to last quarter's earnings announcement, after which shares of Bankrate fell 7%.) Earnings quadrupled to $0.28 a share during the quarter, or $0.39 a share once you back out stock-based compensation expenses. On that adjusted basis, analysts expected a profit of $0.35 a share.

Bankrate is a lead generator for the financial-services industry. With credit tight and money tighter, this would seem to be a lousy time to get on a bullhorn and pitch interest-related products.

You see that in the online lending industry, where specialists like Popular's (Nasdaq: BPOP  ) E-Loan and IAC/InterActiveCorp's (Nasdaq: IACI  ) Lending Tree are struggling. You see that on the residential front, where House Values (Nasdaq: SOLD  ) is having a hard time rallying enough real estate agents to pay up for the names and addresses of opt-in potential sellers. (Bankrate did recently partner with Move (Nasdaq: MOVE  ) to provide mortgage and home equity loan rates, as well as content for Move's various websites.)

Despite this backdrop, Bankrate's growing. In fact, it's thriving. Revenue grew by 28% to $24.9 million during the quarter. The fastest-growing offering at Bankrate is hyperlinks. You know those popular interest-rate listings at Bankrate.com? The ones you wind up visiting when you're trying to find the chunkiest yields on free checking accounts, or seeking that rock-bottom APR on the home equity line you need to tap to complete your den addition? The rankings can be sorted purely, but companies have the option of paying to link their institution names directly to their standalone websites.

It seems like a simple offering, but companies know that folks love the convenience of a hyperlink, especially on a list where some have it and some don't. Hyperlink revenue climbed 50% during the quarter. At $9.9 million, it now makes up nearly half of Bankrate's online revenue.

The company even hiked the fees for hyperlinks for its mortgage, CD, and money market providers, and they didn't flinch. When business is tight, you really need to stand out.

That strategy doesn't work for everyone. HouseValues isn't raking in the dough from desperate real estate brokers. However, LoopNet (Nasdaq: LOOP  ) is doing just fine on the commercial real estate side of the equation. And lead generator InsWeb (Nasdaq: INSW  ) has now strung together three profitable quarters in the auto insurance industry, which is also prone to economic mood swings.

In the end, it seems being in the right place at the wrong time can work out even better than being at the right place at the right time.

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