Last year was "the toughest real estate market in 50 years," Move Inc. CEO Mike Long said during an earnings presentation Thursday, noting that the company grew revenue in key business segments while reporting a $4 million loss for the year and a $5.3 million loss in the fourth quarter.
The company recorded $286.3 million in revenue during 2007, compared with $280.1 million in 2006. And fourth-quarter revenue increased from $69.9 million in fourth-quarter 2006 to $71.7 million in fourth-quarter 2007, according to the earnings report.
Long reported that the company has grown its volume of clients that choose paid "Showcase" enhancements to their listings at the Realtor.com site. There were 3,200 Showcase customers in 2007, representing 240,000 agents, compared with 1,200 customers representing 130,000 agents at the end of 2006, he said.
Move reported an uncertain outlook for a major securities investment. The company had $175.6 million in cash and short-term investments as of Dec. 31, including $129.9 million of investments in auction-rate securities, which are federally backed student loan auction-rate securities issued by student loan financing organizations.
While these securities had been considered highly liquid short-term investments, "earlier this month the auctions for auction-rate securities backed by student loans failed," Move reported, and as a result the securities are not currently liquid.
"While the company remains confident it has enough cash to continue to execute its current business plans, it may not be able to access these funds until a future auction of these investments is successful or they are redeemed by the issuer or they mature," Move stated in its earnings report. And the maturity dates are more than two decades a way, ranging from 2030 to 2047.
"At this time, there is no evidence that these investments are impaired even though the market for these investments is presently uncertain," the company reported, and Move may be required to reduce the value of the investments through an impairment charge and reflect them as long-term investments.
Lorna Borenstein, a former Yahoo executive hired last year as Move Inc.’s president, said that while Move appears to be well positioned even in this challenging market, she expects some online competitors to fall away as their business models run out of money. "Others in the online real estate space are experiencing double-digit revenue declines," she said.
"I have yet to see winning business models from our competitors — they have poured millions of investor dollars into their products," and "something has to give."
Later in the earnings presentation, she said, "I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how these businesses are going to make any money," adding that companies that have difficulty attracting sufficient investor dollars may need to figure out an exit strategy. "It’s a difficult time for everyone."
She also said that Move Inc. plans to continue to evolve its search experience and tools for consumers, though didn’t offer specifics on the new tools that the company plans to launch.
Research has found, she said, that the "real estate search process isn’t just about bedrooms and bathrooms," and that consumers want more neighborhood information and information about loan types and expected monthly payments. "What consumers want is actually a different real estate search paradigm than what is currently offered on the Internet."
The company’s 2007 financial results included an impairment charge of $6.1 million, a litigation settlement charge of $3.9 million and a $2.8 million loss from discontinued operations. The company engaged in a stock repurchase program during the fourth quarter in which it bought back 4.2 million shares of common stock at an average purchase price of $2.40 per share — a total of $10 million.
Also in its earnings report, Move announced that the company filed amended quarterly reports for second-quarter 2007 and third-quarter 2007 to reflect corrections in accounting for stock-based compensation related to its interpretation of federal reporting requirements.
The changes resulted in an improvement from the company’s $3.5 million net loss in second-quarter 2007 to net income of $4.4 million, and a change in the third-quarter net loss of $4.6 million to a $3.3 million net loss.