Does the "Buy it Now" button appear to be collecting dust at eBay
Between domestic slowdowns, striking sellers, and iffy pricing strategies, it's easy to sour on the online marketplace these days. eBay remains an efficient Web-based auctioneer, and its PayPal platform is a winner, but otherwise, the company jumped the shark years ago.
Thankfully, there's a cure for the eBay blues. Grab a virtual passport, and you will find fast-growing companies doing a better job than eBay in hot foreign markets. The players are all coming off blowout quarters, so maybe your eBay fix will be better served by one of the three following companies.
MercadoLibre has been a speedster since it went public last year, and last night's quarterly report did not disappoint. Revenue soared 74% to $26.9 million. Earnings rocketed 189% higher to $5.3 million.
Brazil still closed out the year contributing more than half of the company's marketplace revenue, though the company's also growing nicely in other Latin American markets like Argentina and Mexico.
Like eBay, MercadoLibre's financial payments platform is growing faster than its actual marketplace. MercadoPago booked a 141% increase for the quarter, and a 62% spike for its original auction revenue.
MercadoLibre isn't cheap. American Technology Research's Tim Boyd reiterated a buy rating on the company, but even an optimist's earnings outlook over the next few years presents a dear valuation.
Source: American Research Technology
Going out three years to back a company that is currently trading at more than 30 times that faraway profit multiple isn't for the squeamish. However, those calculations don't account for positive catalysts that may creep up along the way. MercadoLibre is growing even faster in smaller markets outside Brazil. eBay already has a small stake in the company, and it's always possible that eBay could pay a juicy premium for the entire company in a bid to regain its growth streak.
Just don't expect that in the near term. MercadoLibre is in the process of completing a secondary offering. If eBay wanted in, it would have made a move before the dilution. However, if the stateside economic slowdown finds growth investors clawing at overseas opportunities, MercadoLibre certainly fits the bill.
The South Korean marketplace came through with better-than-expected quarterly results last week. Fourth-quarter profits nearly doubled to $0.26 a share, with revenue inching 41% higher.
Gmarket isn't growing as quickly as MercadoLibre, but it's also commanding a more reasonable price tag. The shares are currently fetching 25 times this year's profit target, and less than 20 times next year's projected earnings.
You can't buy into China's leading auction site directly. Taobao, the company that pushed eBay out of the world's most populous nation, is part of the Alibaba Group. An IPO may be forthcoming after Alibaba's success in taking its B2B Alibaba.com site public last year.
In the meantime, your best bet would be either Yahoo! -- which owns a minority stake in Taobao's parent company -- or Baidu.
I'd bet on Baidu. China's leading search engine plans to enter the consumer auctions market later this year. Baidu's market dominance in paid search is also giving small merchants -- the same group that once turned to auction sites as a cottage-industry creator -- the perfect platform to sell wares directly to buyers.
Baidu's latest quarter was a beauty. Revenue climbed 111%. Earnings growth of 79% handily beat Wall Street's expectations, during the same period that global search star Google
Bargain-hunting on eBay
Bail on eBay? I realize it's a tough call at this point. eBay's earnings multiple is in the teens -- something that even value hounds would have drooled over, were this the growth-happy eBay of old.
Unfortunately, Meg Whitman isn't the only thing moving out of eBay. Growth moved out ages ago. Last year may have had its bright spots, but eBay is looking for adjusted earnings to grow just 7% to 9% higher this year.
So don't call me biased, just because I've recommended shares of Baidu and Gmarket to Rule Breakers subscribers in the past. The numbers show that eBay is not the same growth vehicle it once was. If you want auction marketplace growth for your portfolio, do yourself a favor and become a globetrotter.