So far, all signs point to a happy holiday season for online merchants. Will this help turn the tide for popular online retailer
, one of the most-watched companies this time of year?
With the holidays fast approaching, the shopping season is kicking into higher gear -- and the latest slew of data out this week show that e-commerce is poised to post new highs during it.
Monday marked a record day for online spending, with consumers shelling out $647 million, according to researcher comScore Networks. Total online retail spending during the first 35 days of the holiday season so far jumped to $13.7 billion, a 25% rise over the same period in 2005.
And comScore data released this week showed that growing numbers of online shoppers are also getting comfortable spending more online.
There is a 17% increase in the number of online buyers compared to a year ago, with a 7% increase in the average dollars spent per buyer.
In addition to the intensifying online spending, the week saw a flurry of interest into how the season is shaping up for eBay. The online retail and auction site ranked as the most popular Web destination for shoppers on Cyber Monday -- the closely watched Monday after Thanksgiving that kicks off the online shopping season.
Still, eBay's stock is off $13.36, or 30%, to $31.30 since the beginning of the year.
With impressive online spending numbers, eBay's continued popularity and a stock price that trades at a comparatively cheap 26 times forward earnings -- e-tailer
trades at 55 -- one can only ask, "Is eBay a bargain?"
Analysts seem to believe that parsing the data ever more finely can yield insight into the company's growth, and checking in on the company's listings this time of year has become as much of a ritual as putting up Christmas lights.
But the record-setting numbers for online retail overall don't seem to be working any miracles for eBay yet.
Fourth-quarter listings seem to be trailing expectations so far. Global year-over-year listings are up only 13.4%, as compared with the 15.2% forecast by Pacific Crest Securities, Steve Weinstein, an analyst at the firm, wrote in a note to clients this week.
Meanwhile, JPMorgan analyst Imran Khan pegged that number at 14.2%, below the 17% his firm was expecting. Both Pacific Crest Securities and JPMorgan have business relationships with eBay.
Still, the latest counts don't really reveal a verdict about eBay's bottom line. Weinstein writes that the last few days before Christmas could swing whether eBay comes in ahead or behind forecast.
And while listings may not have grown as fast as Khan had predicted, an unexpectedly high amount of money brought in per listing more than made up for this. This caused Khan to revise his revenue expectations for the quarter up slightly to $1.67 from $1.65 billion, while leading per-share earnings unchanged at 28 cents.
All Aboard eBay?
But for investors on the fence about the stock, some big-picture, long-term moves may prove far more relevant than the periodic slicing and dicing of eBay's listing in deciding whether to jump on board.
The company announced a reorganization this week, part of which entails that Philipp Justus -- currently the head of eBay Europe and credited with growing the company's business in Germany to rank second only to the U.S. -- will be heading to San Jose, Calif., to play a more central role in the company.
With its focus on execution, the broader reorganization to create a flatter, faster organization is a step in the right direction. It shows that eBay is taking a more grounded approach to stepping up its progress.
It certainly trumps expensive approaches like the $2.6 billion acquisition of
, which was somehow supposed to reaccelerate the company's core business, but has yet to pan out.
And in another triumph for hard-nosed realism over strategic voodoo, eBay will take a series of major steps to crack down on fraud on its site, reports blog ebaystrategies. While much lower key than a big-ticket purchase, the move has even longtime eBay skeptics such as Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Derek Brown impressed.
If the reports are true, "this could mark one of the more substantive -- and encouraging --efforts we have seen in years by the company to address trust and safety concerns, waning user-activity levels and rapidly decelerating growth in its core Marketplace franchise," Brown wrote in a recent research note to clients. Cantor Fitzgerald has business relationships with eBay.
All of which make a strong case for buying eBay during the holidays, no matter if listings come in a couple of percentage points one way or the other.
Strange Timing Indeed
, speculation continues to swirl around the company's awkward announcement of a
reorganization on Tuesday evening. Though CEO Terry Semel dismissed rumors that the company was planning on laying off employees, prominent Silicon Valley blog TechCrunch says that layoffs may be in the works anyway.
"We are also hearing that layoffs are coming, but that Yahoo decided to hold off until after the holidays," writes TechCrunch. And what about the strange timing of the announcement? Whereas almost all major changes are disclosed either in the morning before the market opens or just after market close, Yahoo! issued its press release at 5:34 p.m. PST.
Wall Street Journal
had the story, but wanted to hold it until it could get an interview with Semel, writes blogger Tom Foremski.
He wrote that
grew tired as Semel did not respond and "that Yahoo! might be prebriefing the rest of the universe and it might lose pole position on the story, so the
told Yahoo! it would go with what it had and publish the story online.
"That prompted Yahoo! to try to scoop
The Wall Street Journal
and get its version out first," he wrote.