Local.com Corporation Q4 2009 Earnings Call Transcript

| About: Local Corporation (LOCM)

Local.com Corporation (NASDAQ:LOCM)

Q4 2009 Earnings Call

February 1, 2010 4:30 pm ET


Ken Cragun – Vice President, Finance

Heath Clarke – Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Bruce Crair – President and Chief Operating Officer

Brenda Agius – Chief Financial Officer


Richard Fetyko – Merriman Curhan Ford


Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the fourth quarter 2009 Local.com Corporation earnings conference call. (Operator Instructions) I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Ken Cragun, Vice President of Finance. Please go ahead.

Ken Cragun  Vice President, Finance

It's my pleasure to welcome you to Local.com's fourth quarter financial results conference call. With me today are Local.com Chairman and CEO Heath Clarke, President and Chief Operating Officer Bruce Crair, and our Chief Financial Officer Brenda Agius. The executive team will discuss our financial results for the fourth quarter and full year ending 2009 and our outlook for the first quarter and full year 2010. At the conclusion of the prepared remarks, we will open the lines for questions.

I'd like to bring everyone's attention that today's comments include forwardlooking statements within the meaning of Section 21A of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 as amended. These statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed in the forwardlooking statements. These risks and uncertainties will be outlined at the end this conference call and are also detailed in Local.com's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Forwardlooking statements made during today's call are made as of the date of this conference call, and we undertake no obligation to publicly update such forwardlooking statements to reflect subsequent events or circumstances.

Before turning you over to Heath, it's important that I mention that we use nonGAAP financial measures in evaluating our financial performance, specifically the nonGAAP financial measure of adjusted net income or loss. Please refer to the press release we issued today for how we define adjusted net income or loss and our reasons for using that nonGAAP financial measure, as well as a detailed review of our fourth quarter and full year 2009 results, including the corresponding GAAP financial measures and a reconciliation of our nonGAAP financial measures to GAAP financial measures.

To comply with the SEC's guidance on fair and open disclosure, we have made this conference call publicly available via audio webcast through the investor relations section of our website. A replay of the conference call will be available for 90 days after the call. I'd now like to turn the call over to our CEO, Heath Clark.

Heath Clarke

We have had a great year. I'd like to go over some highlights before digging into the detail on the company's performance across its three business units. The company grew annual revenues by nearly 50%. We achieved record revenue in adjusted net income, our third consecutive quarter of revenue and adjusted net income expansion; and we're projecting continued expansion of these financials for the first quarter.

During the second half of 2009, we aligned our business to the owned and operated, network, and sales and ad services business units and are now managing our business on this basis as well as reporting additional KPIs by business unit.

We hired key people to the team over the past year, including a new chief financial officer, vice president of finance, general counsel, chief technology officer, and general manager. Our team has executed well in a challenging, competitive, and dynamic environment. We spent the past few months developing our 2010 mergers and acquisitions strategy to support the growth of our business units, and we're excited to enter 2010 with a clear vision of how we intend to grow our business with the best team we've ever assembled and generating material cash from operations.

Let's move now to the details. We manage around three businesses  O&O, which is our proprietary traffic; network, which represents thirdparty traffic; and SAS or sales and ad services, which represents our direct customers plus thirdparty ad sources such as Yahoo! and SuperMedia, among many others.

O&O represents all our owned and operated websites. Today that's a single site, Local.com. But over time we expect to own multiple brands by acquisition. O&O represented about 58% of our total fourth quarter revenue. O&O traffic was over 45 million monthly unique visitors, up slightly from the third quarter and up from 29 million monthly unique visitors in the yearago period.

Organic traffic on Local.com, which we define as all nonSEM traffic, reached over 5 million monthly unique visitors during the fourth quarter, up from the third quarter and almost double the yearago period. Although organic traffic monetizes at a lower rate, it generally has higher margin contribution, which is why we've been focused on growing this number over time. Repeat usage also increased between the third and fourth quarters.

Whether it's through SEM or organic, all our traffic is valuable. Approximately 70% of Local.com users are soccer moms, which means they're typically 25 to 45 in age with kids under 18 at home. This is a valuable demographic with responsibility for 89% of bank accounts, 80% of health care decisions, and 50% of DIY projects and consumer product purchases, among other things.

We believe this demographic's propensity to buy correlates with the value of our traffic and explains, in part, why Local.com as a site monetizes at the high end of the search spectrum. Local and commercial searches by soccer moms tend to convert into buying customers at a higher rate than many other types of search traffic.

As a result, there's competition from third parties to place their ad listings on our site which, along with our direct advertisers, drives monetization of our traffic. Monetization was down slightly in the fourth quarter, in part due to an increase in our organic traffic and in part due to fourth quarter seasonality. We forecast monetization to trend upwards over time, driven by direct advertisers and expected CPC pricing increases and offset by expected organic traffic gains.

Indirect advertisers come from partners like Yahoo!, SuperMedia, and dozens of other ad providers such as Citysearch, Yellow Pages, Business.com, ReachLocal, and Yodel. On an increasing basis, we also serve our direct advertisers on this site.

Our O&O growth strategy is centered around increasing organic traffic, which includes direct and SEO traffic. As a search engine, we really only have three type of pages on the site, the home page, search results page, and profile pages. We believe that more content delivered usefully will ultimately drive more [typein] and SEO traffic over time, which are both our highest margin traffic sources.

So our plan during 2010 is to add more content to the site by launching vertical as it appealed to our core demographic of soccer moms  for example, shopping, education, events, and health and wellness. We want to create a location on the web where consumers have confidence they'll receive plenty of options to do business with local vendors and make buying decisions based on data organized usefully. Bruce will talk more about how we're going to achieve this in a moment.

Although Local.com will most likely remain our flagship property, we fully expect that over time we'll add new brands, products, and services to our O&O business unit by acquisitions. Our acquisition focus is primarily on sites which serve our core constituent of soccer moms and who have material direct traffic to their own sites, thereby adding to our O&O proprietary traffic base and overall value proposition to our direct and indirect advertisers.

Moving now to the network. Fourth quarter network revenue is 31% of total company revenue, and network represents our highest margin business unit. We have two products within network. The first is our local syndication network, which had over 750 regional media sites at the end of the fourth quarter. In our LSN model, we placed a geotargeted small business directory into a regional media partner's site, for example a local newspaper, and the content is then indexed by the major search engines. This, in turn, drives traffic to the 750 directories which we monetize with ads.

We consider 100% of our LSN traffic to be organic since none of the traffic is derived from search engine marketing. Fourth quarter traffic was over 19 million MUVs, down 16% from the third quarter and up 18% from the yearago period. Overall, traffic is expected to increase on LSN as we add content and refine and increase our SEO expertise. For example, we made a number of SEO enhancements in December; and we've seen traffic per site increase materially since then.

Our second product is our local distribution network, or LDN, which is an XMLbased feed product. We released this product during the third quarter to serve more sophisticated sites than one of their own look and feel. We have over a dozen partners on LDN and a good pipeline of new customers and use a combination of our ad partners' traffic quality scoring systems as well as thirdparty systems to insure high quality traffic.

We have a clear growth strategy for our network business. First, add new sites. Second, add new products to each site. Third, add more traffic per product by improved SEO and content expansion. Fourth, improve ad yield per visitor through a continued AB testing.

We believe that expanded distribution increases our value in the local search ecosystem, attracting new advertisers, which in turn allows us to compete for expanded distribution, creating what we feel is a virtual cycle, with strategic defensibility originating from our significant base of traffic on our O&O properties. We further believe that over time any local search network without an accompanying proprietary traffic source will find it increasingly difficult to compete.

Moving now to sales and ad services. We manage all our advertisers, both direct and indirect, by our SAS business unit. For the fourth quarter 2009, SAS was 11% of revenue, down slightly from the third quarter and over double the yearago period. Note that all SAS revenue is derived from our direct customers, whereas revenue from indirect advertisers supplied by third parties are recognized within the respective O&O and network business units where the revenue was realized.

We ended the quarter with over 40,000 direct customers who pay us an average of between $35 and $50 per month for an ad on Local.com or for web hosting services. We receive payment via their local phone company through a process known as LEC billing and through direct credit card billing.

The growth strategy for our SAS business unit is closely linked to the expansion of our O&O and network business units. As previously noted, as our traffic increases we can attract more direct and indirect advertisers and, therefore, compete for more distribution. We expect to add incrementally to our direct customer base through additional acquisitions this year and generally like to see a payback period of about 18 to 19 months, assuming no replenishment of churn.

When adequate replenishment occurs, this payback period can be reduced to about 14 months with very little reduction in our customer numbers. Replenishing advertisers in sufficient volumes is no easy task; and with the recent engagement of more specialized intermediaries, we expect to more fully replenish our customer base in the coming quarters.

Now I'd like to turn it over to Bruce to dig into the operational aspects of the business unit and growth strategies.

Bruce Crair

As a result of the realignment of our business around the three business units, we've focused our efforts even more on our technology, advertisers, and traffic. Users come to Local.com and our network partners' directories to for relevant search results.

At the core of Local.com is patented and proprietary technology. We license a core data set, layer our keyword DNA technology across this data, then supplement this with additional data sources to build more complete business profiles. We then crawl the web, searching for the business' website and index that.

Our search results are ranked using our proprietary algorithm, which takes into account references to a business on sites like the Better Business Bureau, Chambers of Commerce, thirdparty website references, and even whether or not the business is actively advertising on other sites. This allows us to serve up to users relevant search results from businesses that are actively looking for new customers.

Our goal is to deliver information about businesses with a propensity to serve to consumers with a propensity to purchase. We believe this is a true winwin.

Over the last two quarters, we spent quite a bit of time and effort on enhancing the technology and products we provide to our customers. As a result, we have launched many enhancements to our platform, including social ratings and reviews and coupons. This means, for instance, that our network partners can offer coupons to their advertisers and end users can write reviews, upload video and pictures in those reviews, and then even interact with each other about those reviews.

In addition, earlier this month we launched a new advertiser administration system that provides our partners with better management of their own advertisers, including enhanced revenue, impressions, and click reporting. As Heath mentioned earlier, we're developing several vertical areas of content for our end users. This additional content will be available not only to the users on our O&O properties, but also to our network partners' users.

An example of this might be something like day spas within the health and wellness vertical. The concept here is you can certainly go to any search engine and find day spas in your area, but the experience is lacking. You have to do multiple queries, click in and out of sites while dealing with popups and nonrelevant information. Whereas our vertical might include the useful organization of information about day spas in your area, including services offered along with prices, the most recent and highest rated consumer reviews, booking numbers and special offers, and pictures and videos of those spas.

Launching new verticals like this requires data, and this will come in some instances by partnering with leaders in the segment as well as through licensing and acquisitions. For instance, we recently launched an events vertical which allows our users to find information about concerts, festivals, and other happenings in their local area. We license the base information from one of the leaders in this segment, then developed and integrated the site into the Local.com.

By the way, launching these new verticals has the additional effect of providing us with new ad inventory, which allows us to potentially expand our key ad partner relationships and add new ones over time. We plan to expand our platform throughout the year, and this investment is already under way with an expected payoff in the second half through increased pages per visitor and direct to site traffic.

On the advertiser front, we've historically grown our direct subscribers through outsourced telesales as well as via acquisitions of subscriber bases. In the third quarter, we scaled back our outsourced telesales efforts in favor of simply purchasing subscribers directly from intermediaries who themselves manage the outsourced telesales efforts. This has allowed us to free up management's time and focus in favor of our core competencies of local search advertising and distribution.

At this time, our intermediaries have over 150 telesales personnel selling our ad listings and a smaller number selling web hosting. The purpose of these sales efforts is to replenish the churn that is indigenous with any customer base, as Heath mentioned earlier. Now I'd like to turn the call over the Brenda to discuss our financial results.

Brenda Agius

Thank you, Bruce. Thank you to everyone who has joined us for our Q4 2009 and full year earnings call. Once again, we had on outstanding quarter.

In Q4 2009, we achieved record revenue of $16.4 million and adjusted net income of $2 million or $0.13 per diluted share. With respect to our expenses, I am pleased with how we managed our costs this quarter. Our search serving expense in Q4 was $2.4 million or 14.4% of revenue, which was higher than $1.3 million in Q3 due to greaterthanexpected growth in our network business unit.

Sales and marketing expense in Q4 was approximately $9.8 million or 60% of revenue, down from $10.1 million or 67% of revenue in the third quarter. General and administrative expense was flat in Q4 at $2.2 million and declined to 13.5% of revenue from 14.7% in the third quarter.

Research and development costs were also flat in Q4 at $1 million and declined to 6% of revenue from 6.4% of revenue in the third quarter. Amortization expense remained constant in Q4 at about $723,000.

Revaluation of warrants. During our detailed yearend review process, we discovered that warrants were issued in connection with our 2007 private placement which have an antidilution feature and therefore should be classified as a derivative under ASC 815. The revaluation of the warrants resulted in a Q4 2009 noncash charge of $573,000 to the company's income statement. And since ASC 815 was effective for us beginning January 1, 2009, we properly amended our 2009 10Qs to account for the noncash charge.

It is important to note that the restatements contained in the amended 2009 10Qs did not result in a change in the company's previously reported revenue, operating expenses, or net cash from operations shown in our financial statements or for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2009, or any other previously reported period.

Moving on to adjusted net income. The company measures its performance utilizing adjusted net income or loss and adjusted net income or loss per share. Adjusted net income or loss is defined as GAAP net income or loss, excluding the net effect of taxes, interest, depreciation, amortization, stockbased compensation, warrant revaluation, and nonrecurring items. Adjusted net income or loss per share is defined as adjusted net income divided by the number of weighted average diluted shares outstanding.

We are pleased to report that for the fourth quarter 2009 the company's adjusted net income was $2 million or $0.13 per diluted share, with 15.5 million weighted average diluted shares outstanding. As for the full year 2009, 2009 was an exceptional year, delivering $56.3 million in revenue which represents 47% growth over 2008 revenue of $38.3 million.

We generated positive adjusted net income of $3 million or $0.21 per diluted share, and we were free cash flow positive. We believe the outstanding performance is attributable to our ability to execute according to plan and our strong commitment to improving our margins.

As for cash and liquidity, at December 31, 2009, the company had $10.1 million in cash. For the full year 2009, we generated $3.4 million in cash flow from operations of which $2.8 million was generated in the fourth quarter alone. As for debt, as of today we have drawn down $3 million of our credit facility with Square 1 Bank, which was used to fund our most recent acquisition on December 30, 2009.

Taxes. Due to the suspension of the use of the NOLs by the state of California, we booked a state income tax provision in Q4 of $160,000. It is important to note, however, that we currently have $46 million in net operating loss carryforwards which equates to approximately $21 million in potential deferred tax assets.

Now looking forward to Q1 2010, we expect revenues to be between $17.2 million and $17.5 million and adjusted net income of $2 million to $2.2 million or $0.13 to $0.14 per adjusted diluted share. For the full year 2010, we anticipate $75 million in top line revenue which represents 33 percent increase over 2009 revenue of $56.3 million.

As for GAAP net income, the valuation of antidiluted warrants is based upon the underlying price and the volatility of our common stock during the quarter. Since we cannot predict this, we in turn cannot project the noncash charge or benefit in connection with these warrants; and therefore cannot reasonably project our GAAP net income moving forward. As a result, we do not plan to provide GAAP guidance. However, we will of course provide our GAAP results.

I'd like to turn the call back over to Heath, thank you.

Heath Clarke

We believe we have great synergies across our business units. Products and services developed or O&O can be offered to our network of 750 sites for maximum leverage. Ad products from SAS can be distributed across both O&O and network for increased monetization. Our network platform enables regional media to participate in local search, allowing for greater adoption of local search advertising by small businesses, thereby increasing the value of our ecosystem.

Equally, our M&A strategy has the same leverage potential. A property with organic traffic acquired for O&O ideally can have its content published across our network. Subscriber bases can be displayed across O&O, and network acquisitions increase the value to both direct and indirect advertisers. We believe our M&A and organic growth strategies are consistent with each other and will provide further leverage opportunities as we execute our overall growth plan in 2010.

I'd now like to turn the call over the Q and A.

QuestionandAnswer Session


(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from Richard Fetyko – Merriman Curhan Ford.

Richard Fetyko – Merriman Curhan Ford

Congratulations on the strong fourth quarter. Couple of questions. Your prepared remarks referenced quality of your traffic and the high level of conversion rates that the advertisers realized.  Can you give us an idea of the source of that data, based on the statements on the clickthroughs and the traffic from your site converts at certain levels? Just curious about the source of that data.

Secondly, in 2010, what do you think the revenue breakdown is going to be between O&O versus network or at least relative to 2009? Do you expect O&O to be a bigger portion of revenue than it was in 2009 or smaller versus the network?

Heath Clarke

In terms of the quality of the traffic source, our biggest partner is Yahoo!, so we're primarily using, in terms of external, their quality scoring system. We don't obviously disclose what those scores are, but we're able to determine to the extent we're distributing on various areas of our site, what the quality scores on our site or on the network. We're able to keep a close track of that at it relates to their whole quality scoring infrastructure, and they've obviously spent a lot of time and money on that.

We use that directionally. We also use a thirdparty source that's used by the industry as another way in which we can actually manage the quality and control of the traffic. In other words, if we see some poor quality score traffic coming through, we can jump on that fairly quickly and manage that with our partners and ultimately if they can't manage that effectively enough, we can switch them off. We've got some pretty good metrics we can track on a daily basis.

On the second one, as far as O&O versus network, we're not guiding as to the distribution. It's more informational, nothing you can really take too much from it. If you look at network, we have some significant growth opportunities, but we're also focused heavily on M&A on the O&O side. At least as it sits today, you can expect network to ramp fairly quickly. That will probably grow as a percentage of revenue, but where it shakes out at the end of the year is going to look quite different if we can execute acquisitions.

Richard Fetyko – Merriman Curhan Ford

One more if I may. With respect to the rising search CPCs in the industry overall based on results from Google and Yahoo! as well, how does that impact your business?

Heath Clarke

Overall we're in a unique spot. We have good visibility on both sides  I guess some protections on both sides. What I mean by that is we're a big advertiser. To the extent that CPCs are increasing, it means it costs us more to acquire traffic to our site. That's a downside.

But if CPCs are rising, then arguably we're going to get a higher yield on our own side as well, so it tends to offset that fully. Although CPCs will increase over time, our cost to acquire traffic basically will track with that. If CPCs increase 10%, our tack will increase 10%.

The idea here, though, is over time we're adding more organic traffic. And organic traffic of course we don't have that cost. Overall, as we shift our blend and as we have been to more organic traffic either on the sites that we will own and do own or our network, then we should netnet. We should benefit from rising CPC prices.


We have a followup question from Richard Fetyko from Merriman Curhan Ford.

Richard Fetyko – Merriman Curhan Ford

With respect to CapEx, in 2009 I think you spent about $2 million. I was wondering if 2010 is going to be a dramatically different picture? And some of these content initiatives that you speak about, what is the timing of those and what is the associated expenses --CapEx or OpEx?

Brenda Agius

CapEx in 2009 was $1.92 million. In Q1 of 2010, we're looking at approximately $1.5 million in CapEx. So for the full year right now we're projecting a total of approximately $4 million in CapEx. I will let Heath answer the question with regard to billed by and licensed content.

Heath Clarke

I think the question was with respect to timing?

Richard Fetyko – Merriman Curhan Ford

There are two things in terms of the timing of some of the new content verticals that you mentioned. And then whether CapEx or OpEx is really less relevant. Just kind of timing. And then Brenda you mentioned the CapEx in the first quarter of $1.5 million, what areas is that?

Brenda Agius

It's primarily in technology  primarily in technology and infrastructure, the platform. We will be capitalizing a portion of that, but the actual CapEx outlay will be approximately $1.3 million to $1.5 million.

Heath Clarke

To answer to timing, we're investing now. We've actually been investing since the fourth quarter. As Bruce noted in his comments, we expect to see benefits from that in the second half. But we will be launching verticals on a somewhat limited basis. We already launched events. We will be launching new verticals, we believe, in the first half; but mostly this is about investing in the platform to allow us to do and launch more new verticals and manage more content in the second half.

Richard Fetyko – Merriman Curhan Ford

On the acquisition, the new, sorry, the new advertiser acquisition, meaning the telesales versus intermediaries, am I to understand that you sort of are walking away from the whole telesales model and will just primarily focus on acquisitions as in straight acquisitions of advertiser buckets?

Heath Clarke

Not really. Let me explain what we were doing and then what we are doing. What we were doing was utilizing outsourced call centers, and we were managing those relationships; but of course the people that were selling weren't our direct employees.

What we've done and what we will do going forward is rather than us managing those outsourced call center relationships, we're relying on third parties to do that for us, so we're not necessarily in the weeds on the things like sales per hour and lead list development and so on. That's not our strong suit.

As we said earlier, we want to focus on local online search and distribution, which is our strong suit. By engaging intermediaries who have got more experience, more sophisticated systems, we think we can do that more effectively than we have been doing it ourselves.

Frankly, we'll have a better ROI in terms of our time and money spent within our core competencies, better ROI for our own investors and our own shareholders. What that means is as it relates to the acquisition of subscriber bases, there's the pure asset acquisition like we did on December 30 and then you've got the component that's the churn replenishment. That churn replenishment component is the intermediary component that we have today.

As I think I mentioned, we have 150 seats right now  again not direct employees and they're being managed through intermediaries. It's still a sizable effort. I don't want to downplay the potential of this; it's fairly significant. But the way it's intended to work is that effort is intended to replace or replenish churn from the acquired subscriber bases. We therefore expect our subscriber base numbers to grow through acquisition and maintain through the intermediaries.


At this time we have no further questions in the queue, I would like to turn the call back over to Mr. Heath Clarke for any closing remarks.

Heath Clarke

I'd like to close with a comment on our patents. We engaged outside patent counsel in Q4, and they helped us analyze the total potential value and applications of our patent portfolio. We are moving forward on our goal of maximizing that potential and will provide further updates in due course.

We have entered 2010 with a very clear picture of what and how we need to execute to grow our business to $75 million in revenue. We believe we have the strongest team we've ever assembled, and we're generating material cash from operations. We're well positioned to continue our strong growth through 2010. Thank you for being on today's call. Now I'd like to turn the call back over to Ken for final disclosures.

Ken Cragun

This conference call contains certain forwardlooking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934. Words or expressions such as anticipate, believe, estimate, plan, expect, intend, project, forecast, feel, and similar expressions and phrases are intended to identify such forwardlooking statements.

Any forwardlooking statements are based on the beliefs of our management as well as assumptions made by and information currently available to our management.

Actual results could differ materially from those contemplated by the forwardlooking statements as a result of certain factors including, but not limited to, our ability to monetize Local.com domain, incorporate our local search technologies, market the Local.com domain as a destination for consumers seeking local search results, grow our business by enhancing our local search services, increase the number of businesses that purchase our subscription advertising and other business products, expand our advertiser and distribution networks, operate as multiple business units, integrate and effectively utilize our acquisitions technologies, develop our products and sales marketing and finance and administrative functions, and successfully integrate our expanded infrastructure, as well as our dependence on major advertisers, competitive factors and pricing pressures, changes in legal and regulatory requirements, and general economic conditions.

Any forwardlooking statements reflect our current views with respect to future events and are subject to these and other risks, uncertainties, and assumptions relating to our operations, results of operations, growth strategy, and liquidity. All subsequent written and oral forwardlooking statements attributable to us or persons acting in our behalf are expressly qualified in their entirety by this disclosure. Unless otherwise stated, all site traffic and usage statistics are from thirdparty service providers engaged by the company.

Our annual report on Form 10K, subsequent quarterly reports on Form 10QA, recent current reports on Form 8K and other Securities and Exchange Commission filings discuss the foregoing risks, as well as other important factors that could contribute to such differences or otherwise affect our business, results of operations, and financial conditions.

Forwardlooking statements made on this earnings call speak only as of the date they are made. We undertake no obligation to revise or update publicly any forwardlooking statement for any reason. This concludes our call for today. Thank you for your interest in Local.com.


This concludes your presentation.

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