LinkedIn forecasts weak first-quarter profit, shares plunge

(Reuters) - LinkedIn Corp forecast first-quarter revenue and profit below Wall Street estimates as growth slows in its ads business and its hiring services face pressure outside North America, dragging its shares down 28 percent after the bell.

The operator of the world’s largest online network for professionals reported its slowest growth in quarterly online ad revenue in more than two years.

Online ad revenue growth slowed to 20 percent in the fourth quarter from 56 percent a year earlier as automated ads offered by Alphabet Inc’s Google make its traditional ad displays less attractive to advertisers.

LinkedIn has been spending heavily on expansion by buying companies, hiring sales personnel and growing its presence in China and other markets outside the United States as it tries to strengthen its core recruitment services business.

The business, which connects recruiters and job seekers, is now facing pressure in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific due to “current global economic conditions,” Chief Financial Officer Steve Sordello said on Thursday.

The company said it would phase out an online ad product, Lead Accelerator, in the first half of 2016, which would hurt its revenue by at least $50 million this year.

“While initial demand was solid, the product required more resources than anticipated to scale,” Sordello said.

LinkedIn is trying to focus on some higher return-on-investment opportunities, but it will hurt growth in the near term, ITG Investment Research analyst Steve Weinstein said.


LinkedIn forecast an adjusted profit of about 55 cents per share for the first quarter, way below the average analyst estimate of 74 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Its revenue forecast of about $820 million also missed analysts’ expectations of $866.9 million by a wide margin.

Total expenses surged 30 percent in the quarter ended Dec. 31.

LinkedIn reported a net loss of $8.4 million, or 6 cents per share, attributable to the company, compared with a year-earlier profit.

Excluding items, the company earned 94 cents per share, higher than the average analyst estimate of 74 cents.

Revenue jumped about 34 percent to $861.9 million. Revenue from recruitment services rose 45 percent, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the company’s overall revenue.

LinkedIn shares were trading at $137.50 after the bell.

Reporting by Sai Sachin R in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Natalie Grover; Editing by Kirti Pandey