Shares of eBay ( EBAY) continued to rally sharply Thursday after the company beat Wall Street expectations for its fourth-quarter results and showed that growth in its core business was reaccelerating. The stock was recently up $2.40, or 8%, to $32.40. Late Wednesday, the company reported earnings before items of 31 cents a share on revenue of $1.7 billion; analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial forecast earnings of 28 cents a share on revenue of $1.67 billion. But perhaps most important, eBay reported that the momentum in its core business was back. Growth in its Marketplace business grew at 24% in the latest quarter, compared with 22% in the third quarter. The company's U.S. gross merchandise volume -- a closely watched metric used to gauge the health of its business -- also increased to 14% year over year, up from 13% from the quarter before. Those numbers eased fears that eBay's bread-and-butter business was slipping beyond the company's control as a result of shifting consumer purchasing behavior on the Internet. The theory was that rapid growth of search engines such as Google ( GOOG) may make it unnecessary to visit particular e-commerce sites, allowing users to zig-zag the Internet in search of items instead, boosting the chances that companies such as eBay would be rendered obsolete. "eBay reported a good quarter and an excellent quarter relative to diminishing expectations," wrote Stifel Nicolaus analyst Scott Devitt in a note to clients on Thursday. "The fear entering results was that listings growth in the quarter
was trending below expectations and that conversion rates may not make up the difference, despite a fee adjustment late in the third quarter to do just that." Stifel Nicolaus makes a market in eBay shares.