Depending on how one reads eBay's fourth quarter and 2011 financial results, the company's financial glass could be considered either full or empty.
Is the glass half-full or half-empty at eBay Inc.? The company's fourth quarter and 2011 results can be read either way.
On the positive side, the value of merchandise sold on eBay's U.S. marketplace grew 10.3% in the fourth quarter of 2011 to $6.16 billion from $5.58 billion and 12% for the year to $22.87 billion from $20.42 billion. That was better than last year's results: 6% growth in a weak fourth quarter of 2010 and 11% growth for 2010 as a whole.
But skeptics note that eBay still trails the market, as online retail sales in the U.S. grew 15% in the fourth quarter, according to comScore Inc. And eBay remains far from matching the growth of Amazon.com Inc., whose merchandise sales have been increasing year over year by 40% or so in recent quarters.
EBay CEO John Donahoe called it a strong quarter and an excellent year. "We are well-positioned to compete in the emerging new retail environment, and to help retailers of all sizes grow and engage their customers anytime, anywhere," he said. "We are a different eBay today, no longer just an e-commerce leader but a stronger, more diverse global commerce company shaping the future of shopping and payments."
Merchants that eBay certifies as top-rated sellers increased their sales 19% in the fourth quarter. And 64% of merchandise sold on eBay in Q4 was at fixed prices as opposed to auction items, up from 62% in Q4 of 2010. Donahoe said consumers are responding to eBay's "Buy It New, Buy It Now" ad campaign.
PayPal remained a strong point for eBay, as it has been in recent years. Payment volume, mostly PayPal, increased 24.2% to $33.4 billion in the fourth quarter from $26.9 billion a year earlier. Mobile payments with PayPal are also increasing, with Donahoe saying they were up 500% year over year on the major shopping days around Thanksgiving and will reach $7 billion in 2012.