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What Did Commercial Real Estate Do To You?

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Mention "commercial real estate" to a crowd of investors, and you may very well clear the room. The same niche that was holding up well when the residential market initially cratered is now in the same sinkhole, and LoopNet (Nasdaq: LOOP  ) feels the pain.

LoopNet is the country's leading online marketplace for commercial real estate, and it's hurting. Revenue in its latest quarter fell 13% to $18.3 million. The website posted a profit of $0.07 a share, after earning $0.12 a share a year ago.

"Our company and business performed solidly ahead of our expectations in Q4 2009, despite ongoing gridlock in the commercial real estate industry," CEO Richard Boyle explained in yesterday's earnings release -- but I'm not as forgiving.

Sure, analysts were talked down into expecting a profit of only $0.06 a share on $18 million, but that's not worthy of high-fivery. LoopNet still needs to begin inching in the right direction if it wants to be treated as a growth stock.

Some metrics are turning around. There were 732,503 commercial listings on the site -- a 12% year-over-year advance. Even more encouragingly, user profile views soared 26% to 46.6 million during the quarter. Do the math, and you'll realize that the average listing was drawing increased exposure.

However, LoopNet can't deny that premium subscribers -- the folks paying an average of $66 a month for enhanced access and listing features -- declined by 12% during the quarter.

Online marketplaces can be lucrative. Whether you're talking about (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) , eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) , or the faster growing MercadoLibre (Nasdaq: MELI  ) in Latin America, there are network-effect spoils to being the top dog in your niche or region. LoopNet is exactly that when it comes to commercial real estate, despite the pesky presence of property researcher CoStar Group (Nasdaq: CSGP  ) .

Residential real estate has a laundry list of players, led by parent Move (Nasdaq: MOVE  ) and Asia's China Real Estate Info (Nasdaq: CRIC  ) . In that regard, LoopNet is in a sweet spot as it waits for a turnaround. Commercial real estate will eventually come back into fancy. Investors just need to be patient. LoopNet's guidance for the current quarter -- at its midpoint -- implies a slight sequential dip.

Is LoopNet lowballing again? Probably so, but I refuse to lift the moratorium on high-fivery until I see year-over-year improvement.

LoopNet and MercadoLibre are Motley Fool Rule Breakers selections. eBay is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a bull call spread position on eBay. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has never dabbled in commercial real estate outside of the Monopoly board, though he wants you to know that he can hand you Boardwalk and Park Place at the beginning of the game and still beat you. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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