Sohu.com (NASDAQ:SOHU) still knows how to lace up its running shoes. The dot-com pioneer with interests in portals, gaming, video, and search, came through with another quarter of double-digit top-line growth in its report Monday, but profitability is the bigger concern.
Revenue climbed 24% to $477 million in the fourth quarter, surpassing both Wall Street's target of $471.2 million as well as its own guidance that back in November called for $442 million-$462 million in revenue. That's certainly welcome news, but the path down its income statement is as rough as it was through all of 2014. Sohu delivered a quarterly deficit of $0.52 a share. The red ink isn't a surprise. This is the fourth quarter in a row that it has offered up a loss as it throws capital at online initiatives that aren't paying off right away. It's still disappointing, and this is also a slightly bigger shortfall than what the pros were forecasting.
Sohu dabbles in several different Web-tethered markets, and some are holding up better than others. The real star in terms of growth continues to be its fledgling search engine. Sohu's Sogou is China's third most popular search engine. It's a distant bronze medallist in the world's most populous nation. Market leader Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) isn't necessarily losing any sleep about what Sogou is up to. However, Sogou's revenue is growing faster than the country's top dog. Sogou's revenue climbed 70% to $119 million for the fourth quarter. Baidu doesn't report until Wednesday afternoon, but analysts see revenue climbing 48% to $2.3 billion.
The improving traffic and monetization trends at Sogou now find it accounting for a quarter of revenue, but the largest component continues to be online gaming -- essentially subsidiary Changyou.com (NASDAQ:CYOU). It continues to be a laggard relative to Sohu's overall growth, but at least it came through with a 7% increase to $184 million in revenue this time around, fueled by the rollout of a new mobile game. This follows three quarters of year-over-year declines in that category.
Sohu's original brand advertising business held up well in theory, rising 20% to $149 million. However, if you back out its fast-growing video portal we see brand advertising declining slightly for the period.
Sohu is trying to shave costs to get its operating structure in line with its revenue, but investors may not want to hold out for a return to outright profitability in the near term. It is bracing the market for a loss between $1.15 a share and $1.25 a share for the current quarter, far worse than the $0.72-a-share deficit that analysts were expecting ahead of the report. Sohu's revenue guidance of $425 million to $440 million with growth in all three categories is also short of the the market's present target of $445 million. That should weigh on the shares, but with growth resuming at Sohu's revitalized gaming business and the rest of its operations faring even better it's hard to call this a bad quarterly report for a seasoned Internet company's that's been trading in the U.S. for 15 years.