Pricey InfoSpace Takes Lumps

Updated from 1:48 p.m. EDT

InfoSpace ( INSP) remained sharply lower Thursday despite a minor Wall Street debate over its first-quarter earnings, as investors took profits on a stock that has more than tripled over the last 12 months.

For the first quarter ended March 31, InfoSpace posted a continuing operations profit of $5.4 million, or 15 cents a share. That reversed the year-ago continuing operations loss of $1.9 million, or 6 cents a share, as revenue rose 59% to $48.1 million.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had initially called for a 16-cent profit on revenue of $46 million. A couple of brokerages argued Thursday that InfoSpace's comparable earnings number was more like 22 cents a share, saying most analysts had incorporated roughly 6 cents of discontinued operations into their forecasts.

Analysts at Thomson First Call subsequently determined that the company's continuing EPS of 15 cents was comparable to a mean estimate of 11 cents a share, confirming the beat. Whatever the resolution, InfoSpace was trading at more than 50 times the consensus 2004 earnings estimate as of Wednesday's close, setting a threshold of expectation that is hard for any quarterly result to satisfy.

"Even after increasing our EBITDA estimate substantially for next year (from $50 million to $62 million) and using an above-average multiple of 20, we get a price target of $43, suggesting limited upside from here," wrote Piper Jaffray, which makes a market in the stock.

InfoSpace's news comes as the company seeks to make a push into the Internet directories business through its acquisition of Switchboard. The online search and directories area long has been seen by investors as a potential gold mine, a view that has only been confirmed by the fervor surrounding the apparently imminent Google initial public offering. For that reason, even minor disappointments by would-be players in the sector tend to be punished harshly.

"Both Search & Directory and Mobile delivered strong results this quarter, driven by dramatic growth in paid searches and mobile media downloads," said CEO Jim Voelker. "We will continue to invest in these growing markets, both in organic efforts and through acquisition."

Meanwhile, for the second quarter, InfoSpace forecast income of $4 million to $6 million and revenue of $46 million to $49 million. Those figures appear to be south of the Wall Street consensus estimates, which call for earnings of 17 cents a share on revenue of $48.6 million.

Wedbush Morgan, a brokerage that makes a market in InfoSpace shares and reiterated a buy rating on the stock Thursday, said the company's second-quarter guidance came out to 11 cents to 17 cents a share.

On Thursday, InfoSpace slipped $4.13, or 10%, to $36.54.

More from Technology

Deconstructed: Why Micron's Stock Has Exploded 11% in 13 Hours

Deconstructed: Why Micron's Stock Has Exploded 11% in 13 Hours

Pegasystems Founder Explains Why He Has One of the Hottest Tech Stocks Around

Pegasystems Founder Explains Why He Has One of the Hottest Tech Stocks Around

Experts Break Down GDPR Risks for Investors

Experts Break Down GDPR Risks for Investors

4 Billionaires Trying to Make Space Travel a Reality

4 Billionaires Trying to Make Space Travel a Reality

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Deflects Tough Questions From European Parliament

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Deflects Tough Questions From European Parliament