EBAY MYSTERY: It Just Made A Move That Will See Its Tax Bill Surge

eBay announced its first quarter earnings report on Tuesday. The company beat analyst estimates for both EPS and revenue, but the stock is down nearly 5% this morning after lighter than expected guidance.

For the most part, the earnings were pretty boring.

However, there was one thing that was highly unusual. eBay decided to repatriate $US9 billion in cash that was overseas. In doing that, it took a $US3 billion tax hit, so it only keeps $US6 billion of its cash.

This is very rare. Companies don’t like to touch off shore cash because they don’t want the tax hit. Apple, for instance, is taking on debt instead of repatriating its overseas cash.

Why is eBay doing this? On the earnings call, it didn’t really say, though it hinted at acquisitions/future products.

“Just to be clear, we are not announcing any large U.S. based acquisition,” CEO John Donahoe said on the call. “What we are doing is ensuring that we have the capital available for future U.S. needs.”

It’s hard not to speculate that that the “growing opportunities” eBay sees in the U.S. could include an acquisition. Mobile payments are an increasingly hot industry — there’s gossip that Facebook and Apple are both revving up mobile payments efforts. eBay could try to continue to stay on top of markets it has already entered with PayPal and Venmo.

One big company that’s on the block is Square. Lots of people are wondering if eBay would buy Square.

“I’d be surprised if eBay was even considering acquiring Square,” says BI Intelligence’s payment analyst John Heggestuen. “PayPal already offer products like PayPal Here and Venmo that do the same things as Square’s card reader and Square Cash and they have a much more developed marketplace. The only advantage to them would be gaining access to the large number of small and micro-sized business that use Square, but that segment hasn’t proven to be profitable yet.”

The company also bought back $US5 billion of its shares last quarter, but Donahoe said that the company is not committing to financing that share buyback with the $US6 billion in offshore cash.

“Our capital allocation philosophy has been to maintain our financial flexibility to capitalise on opportunities as they arise,” Donahoe said. “The reality is, we’re seeing growing opportunities in the U.S.”

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