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eBay Nation Powers its Q1 Financials

eBay is proving the old adage that a multitude of friends make one truly wealthy.

In its first-quarter financial statement, the San Jose, Calif.-based online marketplace posted record profits of $200.1 million, up 92 percent over the previous year. It had record sales of $756.2 million for the first quarter ending March 31, 2004, a 59 percent increase from the previous year.

The company reported GAAP diluted earnings per share of $0.30 and pro forma diluted EPS of $0.31. It had operating income of $266.7 million, up 80 percent year over year, and pro forma operating income of $286.4 million, up 73 percent from the preceding year, both setting records and exceeding previous guidance to analysts.

Putting the numbers in perspective, eBay CEO Meg Whitman said the company's gross merchandise sales of $8.0 billion places it roughly seventeenth of the world's largest global retailers, while its 45.1 million active users would make it the world's eleventh most populous nation, behind Japan and ahead of Mexico.

In a conference call, the company raised guidance on its expected GAAP earnings per diluted share, telling analysts they might be as high as $1.06 for the full year, $0.07 higher than the most recent guidance. Estimated GAAP earnings per diluted share could be as high as $0.24 in Q2-04, $0.24 in Q3-04 and $0.29 in Q4-04.

When eBay subtracts the parts of the financial picture it doesn't like, the pro forma EPS looks even rosier. On the pro forma basis, eBay is looking for $0.26 EPS in Q2-04, $0.25 in Q3-04 and $0.31 in Q4-04. It said pro forma earnings per diluted share for the year 2004 could be as high as $1.13, $0.09 above its most recent guidance.

Consolidated net transaction revenues were $738.8 million, up 59 percent from the same quarter in 2003 from the $465.6 million reported in Q1-03. The U.S. operation contributed $326.2 million, with international net transaction revenues at $257.1 million. Payments transactions contributed by PayPal totaled $155.5 million, and the company said one out of every three online shoppers has a PayPal account, with penetration increasing in the U.S. and the UK.

Whitman said 2004 would be a year of investment, in new user acquisition, encouraging registered users to start buying and selling, in business infrastructure and in penetrating international markets. An example of that strategy paying off was the increase in small business transactions following an ad and marketing campaign.

The most profitable categories worldwide were eBay Motors, delivering $8.7 billion last quarter; computers, at $2.6 billion; and consumer electronics at $2.5 billion. Two new categories delivered at least $1 billion in gross merchandise sales: Cameras & Photo, at $1.2 billion, and Business & Industrial at $1.1 billion.

Whitman said that the Motors category had been constrained by a lack of inventory. The company advertised, reached out to dealers and improved search. Whitman now hopes to see acceleration in sales during the summer car-buying season.

The company now expects that consolidated net revenues for 2004 could be as high as $3.15 billion, $150 million higher than the company's most recent guidance, thanks to PayPal and international operations.