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LinkedIn Grows but Leaves Some Investors Disappointed

By Chris Neiger – Feb 7, 2014 at 1:00PM

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Investors didn't like the company's first-quarter projections, but revenue and membership are up.

Sometimes you can win and lose at the same time. That's exactly what it feels like with LinkedIn's (LNKD.DL) fourth-quarter results.

The company reported quarterly revenue of $447 million, which is up 47% year over year and beat the $437 million estimate analysts were looking for. Adjusted earnings per share were $0.39, up from $0.35 year over year.

Despite the revenue increase, investors were focused on the company's first-quarter outlook. LinkedIn said that it expects first-quarter 2014 revenue to be between $450 million and $460 million -- below analyst expectations of $470 million. The difference between those numbers pushed LinkedIn's stock down about 8% in after-hours trading.

It's important to note, though, that LinkedIn's first-quarter outlook is still projected to be about a 40% increase in revenue year over year, despite being lower than analysts project.

It's a little hard to comprehend investor reaction to LinkedIn's latest numbers, considering that the company's fundamental strategies haven't changed and that its year-over-year revenue numbers are up and are expected to continue going up. On top of that, the company increased total membership to 277 million in the fourth quarter, which is an increase of about 37% year over year.

There were some other bright spots as well. The LinkedIn's talent solutions business, which involves recruiting, increased revenue 53% year over year, to $245.6 million. Its advertising segment, called marketing solutions, grew 36% year over year to $113.5 million, and now makes up a quarter of its revenue. LinkedIn also saw its premium subscription business increase revenue 48% year over year.

Foolish thoughts
In a conference call, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said that it's looking to China for international growth, which has a lot of potential for the company. Weiner said LinkedIn has 4 million members in China right now, but that "nearly one in five of the world's knowledge workers and students" live there. 

Weiner also said that professionals outside the U.S. now make up 66% of LinkedIn members and that more than 70% of new members came from outside the U.S. in 2013.

Investors should look for LinkedIn's continued international growth, particularly in China. The country is notoriously difficult to navigate when it comes to online membership and usage, and LinkedIn said it would be open to a joint venture to make further inroads, although Weiner said a partnership isn't necessary.

Another area investors should watch in 2014 is the company's sales solutions segment, which is designed to help salespeople make pitches and generate leads. Weiner said in the call that the company is investing in sales solutions as "a core piece of our business." Investors will want keep an eye on if the company is able to generate significant revenue from the initiative, as it would represent a new way for the company to expand.

Though some investors are disappointed by the company's first-quarter projections, LinkedIn's current growth and future prospects should be enough to keep long-term investors from jumping ship.

Fool contributor Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of LinkedIn. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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