Online car-shopping service TrueCar (NASDAQ:TRUE) reported on Feb. 14 that it lost $6.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2018, or $0.06 per share, an improvement over the $8.5 million it lost in the fourth quarter of 2017. Revenue of $91.1 million was up 10% from a year ago.

Adjusted for stock-option expenses and one-time items, TrueCar had a net profit of $2.7 million, or $0.03 per share. That fell short of the $4.9 million, or $0.05 per share, that it earned on the same basis in the year-ago period. 

For the full year, TrueCar lost $28.3 million, or $0.28 per share, an improvement over the $32.8 million it lost in 2017.

TrueCar earnings: The raw numbers

Metric Q4 2018 Change vs. Q4 2017 Full-Year 2018 Change vs. 2017
Revenue $91.1 million 10% $353.6 million 9%
Vehicles purchased ("units") 257,017 7% 1,005,029 5.5%
Adjusted EBITDA $8.1 million 8% $32.9 million 14%
Net income (loss) ($6.4 million) $2.1 million improvement ($28.3 million) $4.5 million improvement
Adjusted net income  $2.7 million (45%) $11.1 million 54%
Net income (loss) per share ($0.06) $0.02 improvement ($0.28) $0.07 improvement
Adjusted net income per share $0.03  $0.02 lower $0.11 $0.03 higher

Data source: TrueCar. EBITDA = earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization. Non-GAAP "adjusted" figures exclude employee stock option expenses and nonrecurring costs. "Franchise dealers" = auto dealers that hold a "franchise" from an automaker, meaning that they sell new vehicles.

The entrance to TrueCar's offices in Santa Monica, California.

Image source: TrueCar.

What happened at TrueCar in the fourth quarter of 2018

Simply put, the quarter fell well short of TrueCar's expectations, which in turn meant that full-year results also fell short of expectations. Its revenue, adjusted EBITDA, and units all fell short of the guidance it gave with its third-quarter 2018 results in November, for both the fourth quarter and the full year. 

During TrueCar's earnings call, CEO Chip Perry attributed the shortfalls to lower-than-expected levels of new business as well as what he called "operational issues" related to the company's migration to a new technology platform. Those operational issues explain the 10% decline in unique monthly visitors to TrueCar's website, as well as the company's cautious guidance for 2019, he said.

Here are the other key metrics from TrueCar's fourth-quarter earnings report.

  • TrueCar's website had an average of 6.5 million unique visitors per month, down 10% from 7.3 million per month in the fourth quarter of 2017.
  • A total of 257,017 vehicles were purchased via TrueCar's service in the fourth quarter, up 7.3% from a year ago. As noted above, that total fell short of TrueCar's prior guidance.  
  • Monetization, or the average fee collected by TrueCar for each vehicle sold via its services, was $334 in the fourth quarter, up from $328 a year ago.
  • Average monthly transaction revenue per franchise dealer was $1,780, up 1.7% from $1,751 in the fourth quarter of 2017. 
  • TrueCar's total number of franchise dealer partners rose 2.1% to 12,674 as of the end of 2018, up from 12,142 a year ago. 

Check out the latest TrueCar earnings call transcript.

Looking ahead: TrueCar's guidance

As noted above, TrueCar released cautious guidance for the first quarter of 2019 and for the full year.

For the first quarter of 2019, TrueCar expects:

  • Revenue between $84 million and $86 million (Q1 2018 result: $81.1 million)
  • Adjusted EBITDA between $3 million and $5 million (Q1 2018 result: $6.0 million)

For the full year, the company expects:

  • Revenue between $371 million and $378 million (2018 result: $353.6 million)
  • Adjusted EBITDA between $35 million and $40 million (2018 result: $32.9 million)