When it comes to investing, there are few certainties, except, perhaps, uncertainty itself. Markets will rise and fall, trends will come and go, and interest rates will fluctuate. Yet wherever the winds of change may blow, there will always be people in search of cars, or homes, or a safe interest-bearing place to park their cash. Consumers are increasingly seeking practical advice and interest rate information online, and for many the search leads directly to Bankrate
Yesterday, the Internet's leading consumer banking marketplace posted third-quarter net income of $2.4 million (excluding a small legal settlement charge), or $0.15 per share. The results topped estimates by a penny but were flat from the year before, as were revenues of $9.5 million. Year to date, net income has risen 3% to $7.2 million on an 8% increase in revenues to $29.9 million, with those measures on track to meet annual guidance of $9 million and $39 million, respectively.
Recently, CEO Tom Evans took a moment to share his insights on Bankrate's competitive advantages, which include a relatively high percentage of "in-market" visitors, or consumers not just kicking the tires but actually primed to act. By delivering higher-quality traffic, Bankrate has an edge in attracting advertisers that are willing to pay premium rates.
Despite year-over-year comparisons made difficult by a record wave of refinancing in 2002, graphic ad revenues, hyperlink revenues, and print publishing revenues jumped 32%, 56%, and 33% respectively last year, and the company continues to secure new clients. During the third quarter, Bankrate signed a number of new advertisers, including Home Depot
After reaching a 52-week high around $20 in the spring, Bankrate's shares have been cut in half, due in part to fears that rising interest rates will keep demand for consumer loans in check. Rising rates, however, will stimulate interest in savings accounts, money market accounts, and CDs -- and the company is well-placed to capitalize on that demand. Bankrate is more than simply a source of mortgage-related information, and in fact, actually tracks data for more than 310 product categories in more than 400 local and regional markets.
Bankrate's traffic may be off historical highs, and its earnings growth may have slowed lately, but the company has excellent margins, a clean balance sheet, attractive valuations, and more importantly, a valuable brand. As the Internet continues to be an increasingly popular financial transaction medium, expect co-branded partnerships with companies such as Yahoo!
Rain or shine, consumers will always be searching for the lowest loan rates or the highest deposit rates, and according to Evans, "what we benefit most from is a changing environment." Fortunately, if there is one reliable constant, it's change.
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Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.