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InfoSpace to retreat from consumer business

    InfoSpace (Nasdaq: INSP) investors will have to wait as long as 30 days to get a better financial picture for the company, as it decides how to cut back on consumer businesses.

    In a Monday conference call with analysts, InfoSpace executives said they would release a strategic plan within 30 days, with updated financial targets. The company plans to scale back or sell off most of its consumer-oriented units, and focus on Internet content and commerce infrastructure services.

    "At this point, we have made a very conscious decision to de-emphasize some of the business we acquired with Go2Net," CEO Naveen Jain told analysts.

    Shares of InfoSpace traded at $6.90 in afterhours activity on the Island ECN, following the conference call. InfoSpace rose 9 cents to $6 in Monday's regular trading ahead of the report.

    InfoSpace bought Go2Net last year. Although Go2Net was known largely for its Web portal, InfoSpace mainly eyed Go2Net's technology offerings, said Peter Friedland, analyst with W.R. Hambrecht & Co., which has a "neutral" rating on InfoSpace.

    "I think InfoSpace really wanted Go2Net because it had some broadband portal services, in terms of providing video and audio streaming for DSL and cable," Friedland said.

    InfoSpace's consumer businesses are profitable and currently generate the vast majority of the company's overall revenue. But executives view infrastructure and merchant services as their best growth venues in the future, especially given the recent decline in Web content businesses and related stocks.

    "What InfoSpace is doing now probably has a lot to do with the state of the market over the last six to nine months," Friedland said.

    Executives spent most of Monday's conference call promoting their wireless plans. InfoSpace expects wireless revenue this year to more than double from the 2000 level of about $18 million.

    Although InfoSpace plans to release new estimates in 30 days, CFO Tammy Halstead on Monday provided current projections that call for a loss of 14 cents per share on revenue of $215 million, basically flat compared to 2000 revenue of $214.6 million. That projection -- down from InfoSpace's earlier forecast of $360 million in 2001 revenue -- assumes no growth from InfoSpace's consumer businesses, and no new acquisitions, which fueled much of the company's revenue growth in the past.

    InfoSpace expects to improve bottom line estimates as the company refines its business plan over the next month.

    "Obviously, it will take us a little while to essentially align our cost structure with the reduced revenue," Jain said.

    InfoSpace's shift away from consumer businesses comes in the wake of a management overhaul that included Jain resuming a role as CEO, replacing Arun Sarim.

    "With the management changes, I think this is just a convenient time to for InfoSpace to clean house," Friedland said.

    InfoSpace reported fourth quarter net income of $12.6 million, or 4 cents per share, excluding special charges. Twenty analysts surveyed by earnings tracking firm First Call predicted a profit of a penny per share for InfoSpace's December quarter.

    Including goodwill writedowns and one-time charges, InfoSpace lost $97 million, or 31 cents per share.

    Fourth quarter revenue increased 125 percent year-over-year to $66.1 million. The company in a news release extolled its wireless business, which generated about $8 million in revenue during the quarter.

    Merchant services contributed about 30 percent of InfoSpace's fourth quarter revenue, Jain said.

    For the full year, InfoSpace earned $46.2 million, or 14 cents per share, excluding special charges. Including all expenses, InfoSpace lost $279.2 million on 2000 revenue of $214.6 million.

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