Ready your bids, eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) investors. The online auction and payment specialist reports fourth-quarter 2014 results after the market close on Wednesday, so it's time to think about what to expect.
For perspective, eBay's guidance calls for revenue in the range of $4.85 billion to $4.95 billion, and adjusted earnings per diluted share of $0.88 to $0.91. On average, analysts are modeling earnings of $0.89 per share on sales of $4.93 billion.
But understanding eBay's business comes down to more than just revenue and earnings alone. Here are three questions, then, that I'm keeping at the ready going into Wednesday's report.
1. Is eBay Marketplaces back on track?
eBay is best-known for its Marketplaces segment, revenue from which disappointed last quarter by growing just 6% to $2.156 billion. In eBay's conference call, CEO John Donahoe conceded that performance was "neither what we wanted nor what we expected," and came despite the fact that active Marketplaces buyers increased 13% year over year to 152 million.
To blame, Donahoe elaborated, was a combination of a stronger-than-expected U.S. dollar, search engine optimization challenges, and reduced traffic following eBay's bold decision to reset passwords for all users after a massive cyber attack earlier in the year.
However, eBay CFO Bob Swan later explained that eBay's fourth-quarter guidance included significant investments in sales and marketing to re-engage users lost to the latter two challenges. Shareholders should be on the lookout, then, for whether those investments are bearing fruit.
2. Is PayPal continuing to outperform?
At the same time, PayPal last quarter outperformed by growing revenue 20% year over year to $1.95 billion. PayPal also grew its active user accounts by 14% to 157 million, and rode strong payment volume from mobile (up 72% to $12 billion) and Merchant Services (up 37%) to achieve net total payment volume growth of 29%.
But considering management also stated some of the aforementioned sales and marketing investments are meant to drive traffic and engagement for both Marketplaces and PayPal, investors obviously want to see that this relative outperformance continued into the crucial holiday season. If it did, it won't be much longer until PayPal is responsible for generating over half of eBay's total revenue.
3. How's the split progressing?
Finally, we can't forget that shortly before last quarter's earnings announcement, eBay revealed plans to separate eBay and PayPal into two independent businesses by the end of 2015.
During the earnings call, however, Donahoe provided minimal additional insight into the progress of that split, and instead mostly rehashed their plans to use it to better capitalize on growth opportunities given today's "changing competitive environments in commerce and payments." To be sure, PayPal must remain on its toes as new services like Apple Pay and Amazon.com's Local Register grow in popularity. And you can bet eBay Marketplaces isn't taking lightly Amazon's game-changing move to encourage barter-style pricing with its new "Make an Offer" functionality.
As a result, investors should listen closely for any comments from eBay management regarding both their opinion of these threats, and the progress of the impending split. In the end, if all of the pieces continue to fall into place as planned, eBay should find itself closer than ever to being able to more effectively unlock the shareholder value of its two market-leading businesses.
Steve Symington owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, American Express, Apple, and eBay. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Capital One Financial., and eBay. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.