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eBay hurdles estimates in fourth quarter

Online auctioneer eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY) slipped past analysts' estimates in its fourth quarter Tuesday, earning $4.9 million, or 4 cents a share, on sales of $73.9 million.

First Call consensus expected eBay to earn 2 cents a share in the quarter.

Its shares closed up 1 1/8 to 137 1/2 ahead of the earnings announcement.

The $73.9 million in sales represents a 139 percent improvement from the year-ago quarter when it earned $3.9 million, or 3 cents a share, on sales of $30.9 million.

For the year, eBay pocketed $19.4 million, or 14 cents a share, on sales of $224.7 million compared to a profit of $12.8 million, or 11 cents a share, on sales of $86.1 million in fiscal 1998.

"1999 was a terrific year of strong, profitable growth," said CEO Meg Whitman in a prepared release. "As we look forward to 2000, more than ever, eBay is truly a trading platform for anything, anywhere."

By the end of the quarter, eBay had recorded 10 million registered users, an impressive 359 percent jump from the 2.2 million it held at the end of 1998.

eBay's gross merchandise sales grew to $901 million, up 192 percent from the $307 million reported in the year-ago quarter.

It hosted 41 million auctions during the fourth quarter, compared to 13.6 million during the same period of last year, a 201 percent jump.

Last quarter, eBay doubled analysts' estimates, earning $3.2 million, or 2 cents a share, on sales of $58.5 million.

Its shares moved up to a 52-week high of 234 in April after falling to a low of 61 last January.

Eighteen of the 25 analysts tracking the stock maintain either a "buy" or "strong buy" recommendation.

First Call consensus expects it to earn 36 cents a share in fiscal 2000.