Fourth-quarter sales increased 14% over last year, and adjusted EBITDA (earnings before the inclusion of the depressing articles) came in flat. Some of the revenue boost came from two acquisitions in the comparison-shopping space over the past year, but even on an apples-to-apples comparison, ValueClick pulled out a 3% sales improvement.
Management credited the performance to the company's global scale and diversified service portfolio, and set the bar higher for next year with EBITDA margin targets that would describe the most efficient operations in three years. Payouts to advertising partners have remained consistent, and growth looks like a matter of driving more page views in front of the ad inventory.
The proposed Microsoft-Yahoo! merger is a non-issue to ValueClick's management, who say that the imaginary two-headed beast mainly deals in paid search, which is not ValueClick's main line of business. The real competition comes from smaller players like MIVA
This report also marked the end of a nine-month investigation by the FTC. ValueClick settled allegations of deceptive marketing practices with a $2.9 million payment, but without admitting to any wrongdoing. ValueClick and the FTC also agreed on the future "standards and practices that will govern" the company's lead generation business.
With an increased margin target, little fear of the proposed Microsoft-Yahoo! merger, and a clearer legal picture, ValueClick has increased its attractiveness as a takeover target in this acquisitive business climate.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a Google shareholder but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure doesn't need to grow by acquisition.