Here at The Motley Fool, we believe individual investors should have the same access to information that Wall Street has. In that spirit, we've listened in on some investment-bank conferences with major companies and are giving you the rundown. We call this feature "Fool on the Street."
Windorphins is the latest buzzword in eBay
A lot is riding on the push to win over bidders and sellers. Core listings growth has been slowing lately, thankfully offset by higher conversion rates and average selling prices.
With Whitman on stage earlier this week at the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference -- and Mary Meeker moderating -- it was a great time to dig into eBay's bag of verbs and discuss the opportunities and challenges that await eBay on all fronts.
E is for eBay
The company's namesake site has come a long way since it was a haven for Pez dispensers and Beanie Babies in the 1990s. Conversion rates were at their highest then. The company's challenges these days are more ominous than toys that spit out rectangular candy or stuffed animals with Ty tags.
The emergence of free classified sites (and eBay owns 25% of Craigslist) and merchants selling direct to their consumers through targeted ad campaigns with Google
It's true. The site holds up nicely in recessionary times.
"If the economy is weak and jobs are not growing at the rate that they had been growing, then people turn to alternative venues for incremental income," she says. For better or for worse, eBay has become a major capitalistic cog in our society. Last summer there were about 734,000 U.S. citizens that made all -- or part -- of their living through selling on the site.
The site is clearly important, but setbacks in some overseas markets and the recent domestic lull are testing the evaluation of the virtual marketplace's overall potential. Thankfully, the other verbs in eBay's portfolio are growing much faster.
P is for PayPal
Meeker points out that eBay's PayPal business is on a growth trajectory that will ultimately top eBay's auction business. Whitman doesn't address the claim, but does delve into the allure of PayPal as a financial payment platform of choice. Whether it's on Apple's
Whitman points out that sales go up when merchants start accepting PayPal at their online stores. The performance varies. It can be a 3% to 7% boost for the e-commerce heavies to as much as a 15% improvement at the smallest of merchants.
Why? Whitman feels that it's because there's more than $2 billion sitting in interest-generating PayPal accounts at any given time. Potential shoppers see the PayPal logo, realize they have a positive balance, and treat it like found money in their pocketbooks.
S is for Skype
Skype, the company's most controversial acquisition is also its fastest-growing. This past quarter found year-over-year growth in registered users and revenue soar 129% and 156%, respectively. With annualized revenue roughly clocking in at a pathetic $1.50 per user, there's a lot of potential in eBay's leading role in voice chat over the Internet.
Whitman likes what she sees in Skype, as well as what it's been through. When eBay first announced the deal, critics felt that Skype would soon buckle under as popular IM text messaging players like Yahoo! and Microsoft
Those companies have made the leap, but Skype has built on its market-leading position all the same. Will it take years to become a cash cow? Probably, but it doesn't really matter. Skype's entire capital budget for 2006 was a mere $2.5 million.
The finances at eBay
The ability to run eBay on a shoestring budget -- as well as the lack of capital-intensive endeavors elsewhere at eBay -- affords eBay flexibility to work magic with its coffers. Share buybacks and acquisitions have been eBay staples lately. Last month's purchase of StubHub is a perfect example.
eBay approaches potential buyouts by seeing if an add-on would help further eBay's strategic objective, provide a tailored shopping experience (like StubHub or Half.com), or provide a technological boost to non-eBay sites like PayPal and Skype.
The company's ability to generate greenery and its self-sustaining subsidiaries is going to make the next few years very acquisitive for eBay if it's able to find the right matches at attractive prices.
For now, the challenge is to kick-start its original growth engine. Windorphins, where art thou? I've scoured eBay.com looking for them -- ready to hit the "buy it now" button -- but they seem to be in short supply.
eBay and Yahoo! are active recommendations in the Stock Advisor newsletter service. You're welcome to read up why with a free 30-day pass to access all of the newsletter's content services, including a lively subscriber-only discussion board. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a satisfied eBay user with the 171 positive feedback rating to show for it. He doesn't know if Whitman has a Colbert Report-worthy buzzword with "windorphins," but he went ahead and registered the domain, just in case. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of theRule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks