EBay CEO cites 'uncertainty' about US government for weak 4th-quarter outlook

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – EBay said the growth rate of e-commerce in the U.S. is slowing as it delivered a weaker-than-expected profit and revenue outlook for the current quarter through December. The company’s third-quarter earnings edged past analysts’ expectations, but revenue rose just short of estimates.

Following the release of the financial results Wednesday, eBay Inc.’s stock fell 5.3 per cent to $50.70 in after-hours trading.

The San Jose, Calif.-based online auctioneer, marketplace host and payments processor said U.S. e-commerce had been growing at an annual 15.5 to 16 per cent pace, but it slowed to around 13 per cent by the July-September quarter. That softening, plus a weaker U.S. dollar affecting its overseas transactions, led the company to say its annual profit and revenue would come in at the low end of its outlook.

EBay Inc. CEO John Donahoe suggested that the 16-day partial U.S. government shutdown was partly to blame, citing “uncertainty about the government.”

“Those uncertainties, frankly, we can’t control,” he told analysts on a conference call.

In an interview, he said the government shutdown wasn’t entirely at fault for the depressed consumer psyche since the deceleration started in July and August. He said he hopes a last-minute resolution ending the gridlock gets passed. “Hopefully that’ll have a positive impact,” he said.

EBay’s forecast for the current quarter through December predicts adjusted earnings of 79 cents to 81 cents per share, below the 83 cents analysts were looking for. The company also said it expects quarterly revenue of $4.5 billion to $4.6 billion, while analysts were estimating revenue of $4.64 billion.

Its annual outlook for adjusted earnings between $2.70 and $2.75 per share and revenue of $16 billion to $16.5 billion was unchanged.

The muted fourth-quarter earnings outlook was partly the result of the company’s plans to invest more in a free-shipping pilot that began this month with nine retailers including Levi’s, Kenneth Cole and Aeropostale, Donahoe said. The company subsidizes the cost of shipping to a U.S. address if customers pay using PayPal, eBay’s payment processing unit, and it is examining adding more retailers to the program.

“We’re very encouraged by the early results,” he said.

For the quarter through September, eBay’s net income grew 15 per cent to $689 million, or 53 cents per share, from $597 million, or 45 cents per share, a year ago.

Revenue rose 14 per cent to $3.89 billion, thanks to increasing mobile transactions in its online marketplaces eBay and StubHub. It also cited growth in the number of people using PayPal. Revenue was slightly below the $3.91 billion analysts were looking for.

Excluding special items, adjusted earnings came to 64 cents per share, a penny better than expected by analysts polled by FactSet.

Kerry Rice, an analyst with investment banking firm Needham & Co., said the weak outlook might mean weaker-than-expected results at online rival Inc.

He also said eBay’s payments revenue came in below forecast because it discounted fees to large clients who agreed to accept PayPal payments. That could mean it is having to cut rates to deal with upstart competitors, he said.

EBay last month agreed to spend $800 million to purchase one such competitor, Chicago-based Braintree, whose success was driven partly by its relatively low fees and high-tech clients such as Airbnb, the vacation rentals site.