You know things are slow when you're a new-media conglomerate, and you announce that revenue inched just 6% higher in your latest quarter, and that each of your major categories (retail, service transactions, memberships, and online advertising) produced top-line gains. In other words, if there are no other factors sandbagging the company's overall growth, those drivers can't be growing too quickly.
That was yesterday's report at IAC/InterActiveCorp
At this point, we can dig into individual properties to find the leaders and the laggards. Lending Tree was the biggest dog, posting an 89% dive in operating income on a 9% dip in revenue. On the upside, dating site Match.com, home services lead-generator Service Magic, and the company's timeshare-swapping business came through with double-digit gains.
In the end, adjusted profitability fell slightly during the period. That won't be good enough for IAC investors or for CEO Barry Diller.
Diller is a serial dealmaker. However, his focus needs to be on smoothing over the jagged edges of the interlocking pieces that make up the IAC puzzle. Maybe it's a good thing that the massive share buyback initiative at Expedia
Remedies for IAC's ails
HSN commands the thickest slice of IAC's revenue pie, but the home-shopping juggernaut is a seasonal low-margin albatross. Surely QVC parent Liberty Media
At that point, IAC could use the proceeds either to improve its balance sheet, repurchase stock, or get back into buying mode by snapping up higher-growth websites -- such as The Knot
The moves don't have to be drastic. You don't bail on Lending Tree just because of the residential real estate meltdown. Cyclically speaking, the sun will shine again for the home-loan lead-generating business.
Ticketmaster is another subsidiary that needs Diller's attention. Folks have a love/hate relationship with the event-ticketing distributor. You can see it in action this very week. Even as the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that Ticketmaster will help season ticket holders resell their seats for individual games -- a lucrative service that the company provides to several other teams -- the Cleveland Cavaliers dribbled downcourt to claim that Ticketmaster's business is monopolistic.
Ask the right questions
The biggest opportunity at IAC lies in its Ask.com search engine. The site has gone through a couple of makeovers, but it's pretty clear that it will never be the next Google
It doesn't have to be. The paid-search business is big enough, with lots of high-margin candy to go around. But that doesn't mean that Ask should be content with its modest 5% stash of search-engine requests. When you're commanding just one of out every 20 stateside searches, there's definitely room for improvement.
Maybe the key to unlocking its obscurity is to stage a highly publicized campaign in bringing Jeeves back. The company sent its valet mascot into retirement last year. However, like retirees who discover that they need to re-enter the workforce to make ends meet -- a real problem -- it's time for Jeeves to get back to work.
Ask.com could use a fresh injection of personality, but there's an even better reason to press Jeeves back into service. Have you seen the mess that IAC has become, with puzzle pieces strewn all over the floor? Diller could use a butler -- fictional or not -- to help clean things up.
The Knot and Bankrate are recommendations in the Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter service. Learn more about the growth-stock researching process with a free 30-day trial subscription. No butlers included.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has never had a butler or met someone named Jeeves. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.