Yes, eBay Is Paying Heed to Its Activist Investors' Requests

The CEO didn’t want to talk about it on the earnings call, but let’s look at the facts.

Motley Fool Staff
Motley Fool Staff
Feb 7, 2019 at 3:42PM
Technology and Telecom

Two different activist hedge funds have recently begun pushing e-commerce veteran eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) toward some more shareholder-friendly policies. And while corporate executives aren't usually pleased to be pressured, that doesn't mean they don't listen.

Case in point, among the requests was for eBay to start paying a dividend and boost its share buybacks, which is just what the company is now doing. In this segment of the Motley Fool Money podcast, host Chris Hill and Fool senior analysts Andy Cross, Ron Gross, and Jason Moser talk about the company's latest moves, its recent result, where it will go next, and the history of dividends in the tech space.

A full transcript follows the video.

Check out the latest eBay earnings call transcript.

This video was recorded on Feb. 1, 2019.

Chris Hill: eBay has been under fire from activist investors, but eBay's fourth quarter profits and revenue came in higher than expected. Ron, I like how CEO Devin Wenig said on the conference call, basically, "I'm not taking any questions from you about the activists."

Ron Gross: Yeah, it's interesting. Yet, the activism does seem to be having an effect. Elliott Management, two of the things they suggested were a dividend and an accelerated buyback plan. And lo and behold, what do we have here? We've got eBay paying a dividend for the first time after 24 years and adding $4 billion to their buyback program. Some shareholder-friendly action there, and I'm OK with it because this is not necessarily a high-growth company. We're seeing revenue up about 6%, StubHub revenue up 2%. They added about two million customers, now they're at 179 million. It's not a go-go growth company like it used to be. They can afford to return some capital to shareholders.

Hill: There was a good stretch of time over the last 20 to 25 years where paying a dividend was in some ways a stigma. We talked on this show eight years or so ago, a big question about Apple was, "Are they going to pay a dividend? Is that going to do something to their growth prospects?" eBay comes of age in the .com era. They pay a dividend, nobody bats an eye. It really does seem like this is no longer a problem.

Gross: It's a capital allocation decision and it's on a case-by-case basis whether that's a good decision or not. In this case, they can afford to do that because they don't really need the cash to plow back into the business. In fact, they're thinking about maybe jettisoning StubHub and Classifieds, and doing things like that, to create value based on what the activists are saying.