Everyone knows by now that the Internet can be a great place to launch a business. If you're able to establish yourself as a hotbed of traffic, high-margin riches are there for the plucking ... for the right companies.
Unfortunately, not all of them are the right companies. Even though the dot-com bubble's blowout did away with many of the dot-com pretenders, there are plenty of Web-based stocks that survived the burst but still trade somewhat obscurely.
Since even small Internet stocks deserve some journalistic love now and then, let me go over a few of the intriguing online companies that posted quarterly results this past week.
The dot-com real-estate baron -- with roughly 200,000 domains in its portfolio to monetize -- was one of the few tech stocks to gain ground Friday. Why? Marchex posted better-than-expected results Thursday night -- a relief for investors after the previous quarter. Revenue inched 4% higher to $33.5 million. That may not seem like a lot of octane, but the company's adjusted profit of $0.07 a share did manage to lap Wall Street's profit target of $0.06.
The name of the game is local search with Marchex. Most of its domains are either five-number ZIP codes or city-specific generic domains that are generating direct leads for local businesses.
Now that InsWeb
Well, at least it's taking the right steps to steer in that direction. Autobytel's stock soared 19% higher Friday, fueled by improving financials. The company posted a narrower loss on a slight top-line uptick during its third quarter. The company is positioning itself nicely for when car buyers come back in droves, though investors may still want to wait for the profits to start flowing.
The company that once traded as Mamma.com -- and still owns the self-proclaimed "mother of all search engines" -- posted a loss of $0.07 a share on flat revenue growth during the third quarter.
It's hard to take a company seriously after it proclaims in its release that "Copernic continued to strengthen its position in the U.S. market as a leader in Internet search technology," when its search-advertising revenues clock in at 0.1% of Google's
Copernic has accumulated a deficit of $76 million in its brief corporate life, but it has struck some compelling software-licensing deals, such as its desktop search pairing within AOL's Open Ride last year.
You probably don't want to get near this one until it's profitable -- or at least growing -- but watching at a safe distance couldn't hurt.
Autobytel and Marchex inched higher on Friday, but Jupitermedia went the other way -- just as it did last quarter. The digital-images and career-oriented website operator saw its shares plunge 9% after posting disappointing quarterly results.
Sure, adjusted earnings of $0.02 a share from continuing operations matched what the market was looking for. But revenue grew by just 3%, to $34.8 million, while the pros were banking on a 5% advance.
That doesn't sound too bad until you bake in the company's fourth-quarter outlook. Jupitermedia is looking to earn $0.02 a share on $35 million to $36 million in revenue, just below market expectations on both fronts.
My two cents' worth
The good thing about obscure dot-com stocks is that they can certainly move on the slightest whiff of news. As long as you can stomach the volatility, there are opportunities there.
Think about these four reports. The top lines weren't all that different. We're looking at a tight range between a 1% decline at Copernic to a 5% increase at Autobytel. However, because the companies don't have a lot of Wall Street coverage, reality and expectations can diverge pretty quickly on the way down to the bottom line.
So I'll keep watching the four companies, hoping to jump in early before they go "ping" on everyone else's radar. Why watch? Well, somebody has to.
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