Commercial real estate may not be the safe haven that investors in tattered residential real estate covet, but it's good enough for LoopNet (NASDAQ:LOOP) these days.

The leading online marketplace for commercial real estate listings posted another strong quarter yesterday. Revenue climbed by 47% to $18.6 million. Earnings grew to $0.14 a share, well ahead of both the $0.09 a share it earned a year earlier and the $0.12 per share that Wall Street was expecting. (You can also review LoopNet's last quarter, in which the company beat Wall Street expectations as well.)

Despite the healthy top- and bottom-line spurts, though, LoopNet isn't necessarily growing that aggressively if you go by other year-over-year metrics.

  • The number of paying subscribers -- 90,186 of the site's 2.4 million registered users -- came in 19% higher.
  • Listings grew by 25% to 538,000.
  • Page views of 40.2 million represented a 21% increase.
  • Unique visitors inched 3% higher to 900,000.

These aren't alarming trends. If anything, it may be initially comforting to see LoopNet make more of less. Just as eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) managed to post a strong quarter on deteriorating listings, LoopNet appears to be milking more out of its user base.

However, the company's knack for perpetually raising its premium-member fees (they rose 17% over the past year alone) may be catching up to LoopNet. The company actually expects a sequential dip in premium members during the current quarter.

Commercial real estate has avoided many of residential real estate's pitfalls, but subprime concerns on the residential side are making lenders choosier on the commercial side, too. That is having an impact on the number of successfully completed transactions in the industry.

LoopNet can still grow in a stagnant sector. It can obviously benefit from the online migration. It also recently acquired CityFeet, its nearest competitor. With one-fifth as many listings as LoopNet, CityFeet is not as skilled at monetization as LoopNet is, but it does bring the CityFeet Network to the table. The CityFeet Network is a consortium of more than 100 online partners, including New York Times (NYSE:NYT) and Tribune (NYSE:TRB), that broadcast CityFeet listings on their websites. These aren't the kind of high-traffic deals that companies such as Monster (NASDAQ:MNST) and Yahoo!'s (NASDAQ:YHOO) have brokered on the Web-based job-listings front, but commercial real estate is a big-ticket market, despite being limited in potential audience.

Investors will need to keep an eye on the current quarter. After beating Wall Street estimates in each of its first six quarters as a public company, LoopNet is showing signs of mortality. It's projecting a profit of $0.11 to $0.12 a share for the period on $18.9 million to $19.1 million in revenues. Spoiled analysts were perched on the $0.12-per-share mark.

There is also the worrisome sequential dip in premium subscribers. If business is getting tough, it will be hard to justify fee increases in the near term. Yes, that sounds a lot like eBay's current dilemma as well. Maybe the companies should swap notes, if eBay doesn't buy it outright.

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