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posted its first-ever quarterly profit as advertising and subscription gains drove a 24% increase in fourth-quarter revenue. Its CEO also predicted the company's core operations would be profitable in 2004 on higher revenue.

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and Independent Research Group LLC (IRG) -- a stock-research subsidiary -- said Wednesday it earned $154,000, or 1 cent a share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31.

That compares with a loss of $1.16 million, or 5 cents a share, in the year-earlier fourth quarter. Operating expenses rose slightly to $7.3 million from $7.23 million a year earlier. Overhead and marketing costs rose at a slower pace than revenue, and the company said its depreciation and amortization expense was almost halved.

"The three-year turnaround effort of's core business is now complete, as that business now lies on a solid financial foundation," said company Chief Executive Thomas J. Clarke Jr., in a release. "This platform is the springboard that will enable us to leverage our brand and capitalize on the many opportunities we see in the consumer and brokerage business to drive significant revenue growth in 2004 and beyond."

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Shares of, which rose 6.4% on Tuesday, were recently down 2 cents, or 0.4%, to $4.94.

Net revenue was $7.38 million in the latest quarter, up from $5.95 million a year earlier. Subscription revenue was $5.1 million, up 18% from a year ago, while advertising revenue was $1.7 million in the quarter, up 25% from a year ago. The company also booked about $300,000 in commission revenue from IRG, which was recently approved as a broker-dealer.

Speaking in a conference call, Clarke said the company's core business would continue to be profitable in 2004 and said he expected revenue growth to continue.

"When we look forward in 2004, we do so with the following knowledge: that our core business is currently profitable and will be profitable in 2004," said Clarke. "In looking at our growth, we grew faster than many companies similar to ours, and we expect similar revenue growth in 2004. With net revenue up 25% year over year, we are poised to capitalize on the many opportunities we see."

Compared with the third quarter of 2003, the company's subscription revenue rose 5%, advertising revenue rose 39%, and commission revenue rose 4%. The company said subscription bookings were $5 million in the fourth quarter, up 18% from the year-earlier quarter and up 2% from the third quarter.

On the expense side, the company benefited from a big reduction in depreciation and amortization, which fell to $447,000 in the latest quarter from $881,000 a year earlier. Noncash compensation fell to $19,000 in the latest quarter from $282,000 last year.

The company burned $90,000 in cash during the fourth quarter, an 89% reduction from the burn rate of a year earlier. But that was a reversal of the company's positive cash flow of $325,000 in 2003's third quarter and $253,000 in the second quarter. continued to spend money to establish its stock analysis and broker-dealer unit, IRG, founded in October 2002. The company said it spent $2.8 million to fund the unit in 2003.

"We recognized when we began building on our strategy of expanding our offerings to the professional sector and launched Independent Research Group that an unprecedented opportunity existed in the research/brokerage space," Clarke said. "In a very short time period, IRG Research has achieved a lot. It now employs nine analysts, covers 28 companies and allows its clients to trade with them with its in-house trading desk. We are in a unique position to deliver sustainable long-term growth and I look forward to building on our success."

For the full year, the company had a loss of $4.04 million, or 17 cents a share, compared with a loss of $8.69 million, or 37 cents a share, in 2002. Revenue rose 25% to $26.10 million in 2003.

The company ended the quarter with cash and equivalents of $26.56 million, down from $26.75 million a year ago, while total current assets rose to $29.92 million from $29.64 million. Stockholders' equity was $25.99 million at Dec. 31, 2003, down from $29.11 million a year ago.

Clarke said is in a good position to make an investment in other companies or announce partnerships.

"Many of you, over time, have asked me about acquisitions, and it is certainly an area we will explore, only if it furthers our ability to get bigger faster in a manageable way," said Clarke. "My philosophy is a very simple one. If it's a bad business, becoming part of doesn't make it a good business. If it's a good business, becoming part of can make it a great business. And those are the businesses that we're going to look for."