Wall Street is taking a shine to
, even though investors continue to worry about its long-term growth prospects.
Analysts are expecting to see strong first-quarter results from the San Jose, Calif.-based company after the market closes Wednesday. Earnings are expected to hit 24 cents a share, up from 20 cents a year earlier, while sales should jump a healthy 34% to $1.39 billion, according to Thomson Financial.
Like other big-cap Internet stocks, eBay shares have been pounded this year.Investors have expressed concerns about the $2.6 billion price the company paid for Internet phone-provider Skype Technologies and over increased competition for online shoppers. Yet while those issues remain, for now they are being placed on the back burner by some on Wall Street.
"eBay is our best idea heading into the earnings season," writes Stifel Nicolaus analyst Scott Devitt, who rates the shares buy, in an April 13 note to clients. "We continue to believe that the core business is well protected from competition."
eBay beat analysts' forecasts in the fourth quarter, but gave earnings guidance for 2006 that was lower than expectations. At first that spooked the market, but analysts later argued that the company's projection was conservative.
Their optimism is continuing. Four analysts have increased their earnings estimates in the past month, according to data on Yahoo! Finance. S&P analyst Scott Kessler upgraded the shares to buy from hold last week. In his note, Kessler argued that eBay will benefit from opportunities for growth outside the U.S. and the planned launch of its eBay Express site, which will sell goods at fixed prices.
eBay and other online commerce companies face a slowdown in growth because the number of new online shoppers is dwindling. The company has argued that its recent acquisition of Skype will help it reach markets that it wouldn't have otherwise. In addition, the company has gotten a favorable response from the addition of
payment-gateway business to PayPal.
"eBay had more early adaptors than most," says Timothy Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Capital Management, which owns a small stake in eBay among its $1 billion in assets. "Now, they have to get the incremental growth, and that's a lot tougher."
Some financial and technology analysts have argued that the payment system of
free listing service, Google Base, could pose a competitive threat to PayPal.
Though both eBay and Google have downplayed talk of a rivalry between PayPal and Base, most Wall Street analysts continue to speak of it.
"We believe that Google Base is less of a threat to eBay than many of our peers," Devitt writes. "While there are 24 million products listed in Google Base, only 1,569 are items comparable to eBay."
Even so, investors aren't completely ruling out that a rivalry may develop.
"Certainly, the potential for Google to steal share is still there," Ghriskey says, adding that "it's not an immediate threat."