One of the nice things about writing for The Motley Fool is that I can tell my wife I'm working when I'm sitting in a chair reading The Wall Street Journal. Well, part of my "work" the other evening (other than getting the 2-year-old in bed) involved reading about eBay's
While sitting in my chair that evening, I compared eBay's sales for the just-finished first fiscal quarter, $1.03 billion, with its full-year forecast of $4.27 billion to $4.36 billion. If you estimate full-year sales by multiplying the latest quarterly tally by four (assuming no more growth this year), you come up with a number of $4.12 billion. The high end of eBay's guidance, $4.36 billion, isn't much higher than that. In fact, it turns out to be only a 5.8% increase.
Isn't eBay supposed to be a high-growth company?
Here is another way to look at the growth numbers. Year-over-year revenue growth for the most recent quarter was 36%, but eBay is forecasting overall growth this year of 31% to 33%. The only way to start with growth of 36% but average 31%-33% for the year is if growth by year's end falls into the mid- or high 20 percent range. Sure enough, digging into the press release, I found that the forecast calls for this year's fourth quarter sales to be about 28% higher than for last year's fourth quarter.
Investors in eBay are counting on the international business (and to a lesser extent, PayPal) to revive growth, but eBay itself is telling us that such hopes are a pipe dream -- at least for the rest of this year.
Last week, Jeff Hwang described this quarter's results and noted (correctly) that eBay, a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation, is a great business. It has no real competition and surely deserves a premium price-to-earnings ratio.
But here is the problem. The P/E based on this year's estimate is 43. If you assume that 43 is a reasonable P/E, given 31%-33% growth, what is a reasonable P/E if the growth rate next year falls to, say, 25%? The P/E should be lower, shouldn't it? It is hard to make a lot of money on an investment when the P/E is contracting because of a declining growth rate. Unless growth heats up next year, it may be too much to ask the market to bid these shares higher.
For more eBay Foolishness, talk it up on the Fool's eBay discussion board.
Fool contributor Dan Bloom would love to own shares of eBay, but he doesn't want to pay the current price. As a result, he doesn't own shares of any stock mentioned in this article.