EBay holiday quarter outlook disappoints on U.S. weakness

By Phil Wahba

REUTERS - EBay Inc on Wednesday gave a disappointing holiday forecast, blaming a weaker U.S. macroeconomic environment, sending shares down 4.5 percent in after-hours trading.

The e-commerce company reported a higher third-quarter profit on Wednesday as consumers made greater use of its PayPal service.

But the company said the macroeconomic environment in the United States was weaker, leading it to give a cautious outlook for the current quarter, which includes the crucial holiday season. EBay said the environment in Europe and Asia was mostly stable.

"U.S. e-commerce softened considerably and we have a cautious outlook for the holiday season," Chief Financial Officer Bob Swan told investors on a conference call.

Data firm ShopperTrak has forecast the slowest holiday sales growth since 2009, and last week, September retail sales showed U.S. shoppers were cautious, following a disappointing second quarter for many retailers.

EBay expects revenue of between $4.5 billion and $4.6 billion for the current quarter, ending December 31, compared with the $4.64 billion estimated by analysts, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"You could certainly point to consumer confidence that took a beating," said Colin Gillis, a technology analyst with BGC Partners.

U.S. consumer confidence slid last month to its lowest since May, according to a report released in late September by the Conference Board, an industry group.

EBay lagged behind rival Amazon.com Inc for several years, but Chief Executive John Donahoe has led a turnaround in recent years that focuses on mobile shoppers, international expansion and tie-ups with local physical stores.

Net income for the third quarter was $689 million, or 53 cents a share, up from $597 million, or 45 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding the benefit of its sales of stakes in e-commerce companies RueLaLa and ShopRunner, eBay earned 64 cents, one cent better then expected.

For the holiday quarter, eBay expects a profit of 79 cents to 81 cents a share, while Wall Street analysts estimate 83 cents. Revenue rose 14.3 percent to $3.89 billion.

PayPal, eBay's online payments division, reported that total payments volume rose 24.7 percent to $43.8 billion.

EBay said that gross merchandise volume, or the dollar value of merchandise sold on its marketplaces, rose 12.7 percent to $18.4 billion in the United States, excluding auto sales.

This summer, eBay expanded its eBay Now same-day delivery service into new markets and last month bought payments gateway Braintree for about $800 million to strengthen PayPal's presence on mobile devices.

To compete with Amazon's Prime service, PayPal is offering for a limited time free two-day shipping for items paid for with that service.

(Reporting by Phil Wahba in New York; Esditing by Steve Orlofsky)

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