Monster Worldwide, Inc. (NYSE:MWW)
Q4 2009 Earnings Call
February 3, 2010 5:00 pm ET
Robert Jones - Investor Relations
Salvatore Iannuzzi - Chairman of the Board, President & Chief Executive Officer
Timothy T. Yates - Chief Financial Officer, Executive VP & Director
Darko Dejanovic - Executive VP, Global Chief Information Office & Head of Product
James M. Langrock - Senior VP Finance & Chief Accounting Officer
Mark S. Mahaney - Citigroup Smith Barney
Monica DiCenso - JP Morgan Securities
Tim McHugh - William Blair & Co.
James Mitchell – Goldman Sachs
Toby Summer - SunTrust Robinson Humphrey
Mark Macon – Robert W. Baird
Good afternoon. My name is Christian and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Monster Worldwide fourth quarter and full year earning conference call. (Operator Instructions) I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Bob Jones, Vice President of Investor Relations. Sir, you may begin.
Thank you. Good afternoon and thank you for joining us on Monster Worldwide’s fourth quarter and full year 2009 conference call. In addition to enacting our financial results for the period in a separate news release, we announced a definitive agreement to acquire the assets of the Yahoo Hot Jobs and we entered into a traffic agreement with Yahoo.
We will have formal remarks from Sal Iannuzzi, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, and Tim Yates, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. In addition to Sal and Tim, several members of our executive management team are available to answer your questions in the Q&A part of the call. Theyare Darko Dejanovic, CIO and Head of Product; Ted Gilvar, Chief Marketing Officer; James Langrock, Chief Accounting Officer, Michael Miller of General Counsel, Art O’Donnell, Global Customer Service, Lise Poulos, and Mark Stoever, Corporate Development and Strategic Alliances. Steve Cooker, the head of US Sales is also with us today.
Before we begin, I’d like to remind you that except for historical information, the statements made during this conference call constitute forward-looking statements under applicable securities laws. Such forward-looking statements involve certain risks and uncertainties including statements regarding the company’s strategic direction, prospects and future results.
Certain factors including factors outside of our control may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in the forward-looking statements including economic and other conditions in the markets in which we operate, risks associated with acquisitions and dispositions, competition, and the other risks discussed in our Form 10-K and our other filings made with the Securities & Exchange Commission.
With that, I’d like to turn the call over to Sal for his comments.
Thank you Bob. Good afternoon and welcome to our fourth quarter and year end 2009 conference call.
I will cover the following topics in my remarks this afternoon. A quick review of Monster’s growth strategy, our current business trends, summary of year end fourth quarter performance.
Today’s announcement is our entry to the agreement with Yahoo to acquire Hot Jobs and the traffic agreement with Yahoo and areas of focus as we enter 2010.
Tim will then provide financial details on the fourth quarter of 2009 and further perspectives on the Yahoo announcement, as well as context for the fourth quarter and full year 2010. I will then make summary remarks and then we’ll take your questions.
We were pleased to see many of you at our investor conference in NYC three months ago. At that time, we updated you on the progress we made in transforming Monster and demonstrated our innovative precision search technology powered by Trovix, which we’ve now branded Sixth Sense.
This new search engine powers a suite of products that delivers precise results that match seekers with job opportunity faster and better than ever before.
This revolutionary product exemplifies the innovative approach we’ve taken in reviewing every aspect of our business. It is a combination of our initiatives to position the company for long-term sustainable growth.
Let me take a few minutes to quickly summarize these initiatives. We have rebuilt our infrastructure creating a solid platform for future growth. Introduced new career management resources for many of the job seekers who visit Monster around the globe. We’ve experienced new audience for employer’s job postings through our innovative media products, including career network products.
We significantly enhanced our networking capability through the integration of our Monster communities. We’ve expanded our reach through key alliances and partnerships with online media. We’ve established a wider geographic footprint in large geographic markets in Asia and now with today’s announcement regarding the proposed acquisition of Hot Jobs from Yahoo, we have substantially added quality traffic while significantly increasing our customer base.
The new tools and applications available to our customers are unique to Monster and distinguish us from the competition. We have changed the industry by creating the best search technology in the recruitment business.
These initiatives have generated strong momentum as we enter better environment in 2010.
We are very proud of these accomplishments, particularly given that we achieved them during a deep global recession and are gratified by our customer support.
As the global economy appears to be recovering from recession, we have seen positive signs of continued stability and improvement. Several major economic indicators, including GDP employment and online recruitment data, suggests a US and Europe are in early stages of recovery. For example, the US GDP increased at an annual rate of 5.7% in the fourth quarter of ’09. Additionally, the Monster employment for US and Europe consistently show more positive trends.
As a result, companies are fighting their interesting in acquiring talent and filling critical skilled positions. Conversations with our customers are becoming increasingly more positive as the look to rehire and create jobs during this period of productivity.
It’s becoming evident that companies will need to expand their workforce to keep up with demands as the economy recovers. The combination of a strengthening economic environment, with strategic initiatives we have implemented at Monster have resulted in significant improvements in our operations and provide a superior value proposition to our customers; however, as you know the unemployment rate remains historically high and demands substantially down from normal levels, but there is no question we are in a far better place today than we were at this time last year.
The psychology of the market has clearly improved. Customers are showing more optimism and job creation is now the nation’s top priority. On a personal note, I have been honored and privileged to make several trips to the White House recently as part of the President’s plan to create jobs in America. These meetings have provided valuable insight into the thinking of business and future needs to expand the workforce. While still many obstacles to overcome, the tone of the business leaders have become more positive and upbeat.
In looking at the fourth quarter results, sales came in better than our forecast. The recruitment market is large and highly competitive and fragmented and we are increasingly confident that we are gaining share from targeted competitors. While we expect a sequential seasonal lift in sales, the increase we experienced was a pleasant surprise.
Deferred revenue balance excluding China HR increased sequentially for the first time in almost two years. Both revenue and the bottom line were in line with our expectations.
Our international revenue showed a sequential increase in the fourth quarter as certain larger European countries contributed to the momentum that we experienced in our Asian business beginning in the third quarter.
In the US, key indicators have improved and is clear we are weighing the competitive battle. There are a number of strategic factors that came together to drive the performance. Monster has seen the bounces of the many changes made to improve and enhance our customer experience.
The result of our power resume search product, which was introduced last week in October, in the US so far has been absolutely outstanding.
Customers are finding that they are operating more efficiently saving time and money as we cover more relevant and qualified candidates. This efficiency improved results of a lot of those to capture a premium price for the product.
We are very excited about the potential for this product as it gains traction and as we roll out the product of certain markets of Europe, Asia, and Australia this year.
The bottom line is that we have seen improved results due to customers acceptance of our new products and expanded portfolio – improvement in employment as a result of a better economy.
We announced today a definitive agreement with Yahoo to acquire Hot Jobs and at the same time enter into a multi-year traffic deal to be exclusive career site on Yahoo’s US and Canadian homepage. The agreement also provides Monster with the exclusivity to negotiate similar traffic agreements that Yahoo properties on a global basis.
I’d like to provide a high level overview of what this deal brings to Monster and Tim will provide additional details in a financial perspective.
Essentially the transaction positions Monster to add high quality, relevant job seeks efficiently while at the same time significantly expanding our customer base. This transaction will bring Monster’s superior technology and expertise, including Sixth Sense technology to a deeper combined pool of job seekers and employers.
This combined offering will be made even more robust as future job seekers and employers are brought Monster’s site to increased traffic from the vast Yahoo network.
The traffic deal established a number one traffic position for Monster in the US. The opportunity to work with an additional 600 daily and weekly newspapers to both company’s alliances is exciting and presents an opportunity for significant growth going forward.
These media partners represent approximately half of US daily and weekly market newspaper circulation and our further access into local markets and job sectors.
The transaction will be accretive to our earnings in 2011 and break even on a pro forma basis in 2010.
Liquid balance provides a strong financial foundation to executive this transaction and allows us to continue to finance future investments without compromising our financial strength.
A deeper pool of employers and job seekers and shows more and better quality matches making the business more attractive and providing more value than what each company could achieve separately. With this added value and with the accretive aspects of the transactions, we believe that employers, job seekers, and shareholders will realize substantial benefits from this new partnership.
Finally, while this transaction strengthens our US operations, Monster’s customers will benefit from a larger US seeker base.
We are entering the new year a much stronger company. We have products, superior technology, and proof customer service and vastly improved go-to-market strategy. We’re confident we will build on the strong foundation by continuing to invest in areas that will contribute to future growth and we certainly have many initiatives in place to build on success.
Let me just highlight a few. Innovation will continue to be the cornerstone of Monster’s growth strategy. We believe there are many opportunities to broaden the application for our Sixth Sense technology and we are intrigued with the potential.
On the marketing front, we’ll continue to support and promote our brand creatively and efficiently. Our new marketing campaign – get a Monster’s advantage – is a platform aimed at giving both job seekers and employers a way to search better, plan better, and connect better. The campaign highlights Monster’s innovative resources designed to match people with the right job and employers with the right talent. You will see an important part of the campaign during Sunday’s Super Bowl. I don’t want to give away too much, but watch for the beagle with the fiddle that migrates from pod to a hot tub. I think you’ll find it entertaining.
We advertise that the amount of time internally crafting a multi year geographic expansion, but it enabled Monster to enter developing country efficiently and effectively. This is being led by Rob Brower, who is a key member of the team that established Monster’s current leadership position in Europe. The strength of our European management team allows Rob to assume responsibilities for this important initiative. We believe that a huge opportunity to expand the market brand to countries in Eastern Europe, Latin American, and Asia, which have large employee populations and growing economy.
This planned expansion is underway and will accelerate throughout the year. We will continue to be disciplined and follow a strategic plan that allows us to build on the strong foundation we’ve created.
Monster has tremendous opportunity to expand its products, its market, and its geographic presence. As the economy continues to improve, we are poised to take advantage of those opportunities.
With that, I’d like to turn it over to Tim. Tim?
Thank you, Sal, and good afternoon, everyone.
As we have in prior quarters, first I will walk through our pro forma income statement and then I will highlight the adjustments which reconcile pro forma results to our GAAP results. After a brief discussion of our operating segments, I will comment on our cash and liquidity and I will build on the comments we made in our investor presentation late October about 2010 and in particular the first quarter, and finally I will discuss the transaction we announced today with Yahoo.
I will be distinguishing between sales, which represent contractual bookings received during the quarter and accounted for deferred for the amount of revenue recognized during the period consistent with our revenue recognition policies.
Pro forma revenue during the quarter was $213 million, essentially flat with Q3 and down 27% from last year’s $293 million.
Currency favorably impacted revenue during the quarter by $7.7 million on a year-over-year basis. This positive impact was largely offset by an unfavorable impact on operating expenses as a result of currency adjustments of $5.9 million.
Pro form operating expenses at $213 million was essentially flat with the Q3 and lower than last year’s Q4 by $38 million or 15%.
Pro forma interest was a loss of a million during the quarter, compared with positive $1.6 million in the prior year quarter.
Our pro forma consolidated tax rate was 33% versus 29% in Q3 and 34% last year.
Pro forma income from continuing operations was a loss of $1.5 million or a penny per share compared with a $28.3 million profit in the prior year and $0.24 per share.
I will now walk through this quarter’s pro forma adjustments which had a negative impact on GAAP net income of $600,000 or slightly over $0.01 per share.
The pretax adjustments are $2.9 million charge on the salary and relating line resulting from realignment of staff. A $6.3 million benefit on the office in general line resulting from our settlement with a former officer of the company in a litigation matter, which was partially offset by real estate consolidation charges.
A $6.1 million charge on the interest and other line resulting from the settlement of a litigation with RBC relating to our securities portfolio and additional charges to value the portfolio on a consistent basis. We will discuss that settlement when we discuss our liquidity position.
Total pro forma operating expense during the quarter was $213 million, essentially even with the third quarter and a 15% improvement year-over-year.
Within that, total salary and related expense was down 14% year-over-year reflecting the net reduction of headcount of approximately $1,300 including China, as well as a lower level of extended compensation and commissions in 2009.
On a sequential basis, salary and related was up 5% as a result of one time benefits in the Q3 and an increase in commissions combined with negative currency impact in Q4.
Total advertising and promotion expense at $45 million was down 14% versus the prior year, but was consistent with the level of spend in the prior quarter.
Total office and general expense was $56 million in the quarter, 18% lower than last year and 5% lower sequentially.
The North American operating segment, a revenue of $91 million, 33% year-over-year and a 4.5% sequential decrease. Despite this decline, the segment generated $4.3 million of operating income.
On a sequential revenue basis, within the North American segment, our Canadian and government channels were slightly up. Our Enterprise channel was essentially flat and the SMB and staffing channels continue to lag, again, on a revenue basis.
More importantly, on a sequential sales basis, during the quarter, our Enterprise staffing healthcare and tele-sales or SMB channels were significantly up.
Our e-com channel declined slightly due to seasonality and our government channel was down on a sequential sales basis as a result of a significant number of larger sales closed during the third quarter.
On a year-over-year basis, our government channel was our single percentage strongest performer.
Revenue for the international segment was $88 million, representing a 29% year-over-year decline, a 4% increase on a sequential basis.
Operating income was $300,000, consistent with the prior quarter.
On a sequential revenue basis, a number of our international markets were up, including China, Korea, France, Italy, and Sweden. While the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands continue to show lower sequential revenue; however, the pace of the decline slowed dramatically.
On a sequential sales basis, world countries showed an increase.
Revenue from the IAF segment was $34 million in the quarter, a 3% increase year-over-year and a 2.5% sequential decrease. Operating income was $5 million.
As you know, a portion of the revenue of the IAF segment is related to the careers and jobs market invest throughout the year has been suffering from the same headwinds as our other careers business.
The weakness in the careers business, however, during the year has been substantially offset by strength in our other advertising platforms, in particular in the regeneration area.
On a sequential basis, the third quarter is particularly strong in our education and military businesses, as a result of the strong September back-to-school selling season, which they both benefit from.
Turning now to the balance sheet and cash flow, throughout this difficult period, a top priority has been to preserve cash. At yearend, we had net cash and securities of $250 million versus $234 million at the end of Q3. Including our undrawn revolving credit, the company has total liquidity of $550 million.
During the quarter, the company (?) with RBC with regard to the auction rate securities. RBC agreed to and has immediately repurchased at a discount the securities we have bought through them. Under certain circumstances, Monster will receive additional proceeds if any of the securities repurchased by RBC are refinanced at a level higher than we received.
In addition to the charge taken to reflect this settlement, the company decided to mark to market the remaining auction rates which were not acquired through RBC to the price reflected in the settlement.
With our settlements with RBC and UBS, we have substantially resolved the liquidity of our ARS portfolio.
Pro forma EBITDA during the quarter was $27 million and capital and expenditures were $10 million, a reflection of the maturing of our investment cycle.
Deferred revenue ended the quarter at $306 million, up 15% from last quarter’s level of $266 million. Sal mentioned this is the first time that deferred revenue excluding the impact of the acquisition of China HR has increased on a sequential basis since December of 2007 and is concrete evidence the business is improving.
Summarizing the quarter, revenue and earnings per share loss were consistent with our expectations. Several of our channels and key countries showed sequential revenue increases in all of our countries and most of our channels showed solid increase in sequential sales.
Our headcount remained under tight control. The composition of our liquidity has been enhanced as a result of our settlement with RBC.
The increase in deferred revenue is somewhat greater than we anticipated going into the quarter. Continuing firming in the economy, combined with strong competitive results, fueled by strong acceptance of our new products are resulting in gains in sales.
As we move into 2010, there are many encouraging signs in our business. The economy has stabilized around the world and our clients’ budgets and hiring clients are beginning to loosen up. Improvements that we have made to our seeker experience and to our employer tools is resulting in increasingly improved results for our clients and as a result we are confident that we are gaining share.
The fourth quarter is historically a strong renewal season, but certainly in 2008 as a result of the recession, the renewal season was not as robust as in prior years. This year, on the other hand, fourth quarter sales were at the higher end of our own expectations leading to a greater increase in the deferred revenue balance than anticipated.
We are confident that in the execution of our business plan and in the fact that the macro global economy is slowly improving. As the economy improves, as hiring picks up, as recruiting dollars continue to migrate from offline to online on a global basis, and as our sales increase, there is a powerful upside to our revenue.
Because much of our investment in product technology and infrastructure is in place, a substantial portion of that incremental revenue will drop to the bottom line. So despite continuing headwinds in the general economy with global unemployment remaining at historically high levels, we approach 2010 with considerable optimism.
As we discussed at some length in our investor day meeting, recognized revenue will lag sales as a result of the depth of the recession in 2009. Our comments about the first quarter and more particularly about the third year are based on the environment as we see it today, which assumes a continuing slow improvement in the global economy. These comments do not reflect potential impact of our proposed acquisition of Hot Jobs, which I will discuss separately and please recall that they pertain to our pro forma results consistent with our prior practices and do not reflect any one-time charges which may occur or other costs associated with continuing realignment of the business.
As you know, deferred revenue increased in Q4 to $306 million, we started 2009 with a deferred revenue balance of $414 million. So we start the year with over $100 million less in deferred revenue.
While we expect annual sales for 2010 to increase by 15% to 20%, the first $100 million of that increase goes to replace the reduction in deferred revenue. As a result, on an annualized basis, we expect revenue will be flat on a year-over-year basis plus or minus a few percent.
Because the first quarter is somewhat slower from a seasonal point of view, we expect revenue in Q1 to be flat to slightly down on a sequential basis.
For comparison purposes, the first quarter of 2009 was down 13% sequentially and that of course included a higher level of deferred revenue runoff.
Turning to operating expense, the first quarter has a higher level of salary expense primarily as a result of increased benefit expense in the US.
In addition, marketing expense will run higher in the first quarter as we roll out our Sixth Sense product and we execute our marketing campaign at the Super Bowl.
Because of these two major factors, operating expense during Q1 will increase in the range of 10% to 15%, but both of these expenses will not reoccur in the second quarter.
For the full year, we expect pro forma operating expense to be up 3% to 6% on a year-over-year basis.
Annual increase of 3% to 6% reflects the effect of the increase in operating expense in Q1, which I have described and the potential reintroduction of some compensation later in the year, assuming the economy continues to improve as we forecast.
We will of course continue to stringently control operating expense and we will continue to refine the mix of our spend with a greater percentage of 2010 spend going to sales and marketing than in recent years.
As you know, over the past several years we have spent significantly to improve our product, our infrastructure, and our seeker experience.
At this stage of our evolution, while we fully intend to continue to innovate our product, it is only natural that increased percentage go toward getting our new product fully to the market.
I want to reiterate here that the economies in the market continue to have a higher degree of uncertainty than normal and we are mindful of that in providing this commentary. We are closely monitoring the situation on a real time basis and we are not committing ourselves to fixed cost spending.
While we currently believe that the growing rebound in the business warrants relaxing the operating expense controls of recent year’s event, we are equally prepared to go the other way in the event that the business does not progress as we currently forecasted.
To summarize, and again, these comments are made before the impact of the proposed acquisition of Hot Jobs, we expect sales to be up in the 15% to 20% range for the year with annual operating expenses up 3% to 6%. Both of these expectations are consistent with our longer term belief that revenue can grow at 15% per annum and that a substantial portion of incremental revenue will drop to the bottom line.
The lag between sales and recognized revenue reflects the lower level of deferred revenue coming into the year. Thus, revenue for the full year will be flat, plus or minus a few percent.
For the first quarter, on a sequential basis, we expect revenue to be flat to slightly down and operating expenses to be up 10% to 15% reflecting seasonal spending. Thereafter, operating expenses return to a more normal level.
Our forecast do not imply any significant throw down in cash with the exception of the proposed acquisition of Hot Jobs and as the business builds, our cash will begin to build.
Turning now to our transactions with Yahoo announced today. We are extremely pleased to announce that we signed definitive agreements with Yahoo to acquire Hot Jobs and at the same time enter into a multi year traffic deal to be the exclusive career site on Yahoo’s US and Canadian homepage.
I’m going to outline the major terms of the transaction, the strategic rationale for it, discuss the time, and finally review the financial attributes.
We are acquiring the Hot Jobs business for $225 million in cash. At the same time, we have entered into an exclusive three-year North American traffic deal, which will be effective upon closing of the acquisition. Monster will be the career site and the personal assistant on Yahoo’s homepage in the US and Canada.
In the US, our payments for traffic are performance based and will be based upon clicks and expressions of interest for ELI’s with annual floors and ceilings.
ELI’s are defined as the start of the apply process. As you know, over the past several years, we have been focusing on increasing our applies and improving the quality and relevance of those applies, because that is what our clients value most. This traffic deal was designed specifically to drive (?) In addition to the Canadian traffic deal, the agreement afford us the exclusive rights to negotiate other international traffic deals.
Yahoo has important international properties in many of our key markets, such as UK, India, France, and Brazil, among others, and we are very hopeful that we will be able to work with our new partners at Yahoo to build what we have done together in North American into a truly mutually beneficial global partnership.
Transactions are extremely important for Monster. While there are a number of agreements, which all stand on their own, the two most important are the purchase of the Hot Jobs assets and the traffic deals. Both of those transactions are integral to our strategy.
As you know, Monster’s strategy is based on the combination of precision matching, success technology, scale, and breadth of product. As a result of this transaction, Monster’s scale will substantially increase and Yahoo and Monster’s seekers and Hot Jobs and Monster’s clients will gain access to more opportunities and more relevant opportunities, all accomplished in substantially less time. More employer and seeker matches will be made.
Specifically from Monster’s perspective, the traffic deal will clearly establish a number one traffic position for Monster in the US and purchase of Hot Jobs will substantially increase the number of clients we serve.
Alliances with Hot Jobs newspaper partners will provide Monster with approximately 600 additional access points for millions of consumers to reach Monster’s precision job search technology.
The Canadian traffic deal is important in its own right to our Canadian business, but in addition we trust that it provides us a template to broaden our relationship with Yahoo on a global basis.
As we have commented in our press release, the transaction is subject to clearance under the hard scott and v. act. Although both parties are eager to consummate the transaction as quickly as possible, our financial model is based on the closing sometime during the third quarter. Thereafter there will be a period of integration while we work together with Yahoo to migrate the Hot Jobs business to the Monster platform.
We’d now like to briefly discuss our financial modeling of the Hot Jobs business.
I will discuss at a high level our revenue, non-traffic operating costs, traffic costs, transition cost, and then conclude with the estimated impact on Monster’s financial results in 2010 and 2011.
On the revenue side, Hot Jobs revenue in 2009 was down in line with the industry; however, our model is based on the assumption that Hot Jobs revenue will flatten out during 2010 and grow in line with the industry in future years.
We also believe that Monster can better serve Hot Jobs client base with our broader product line and new Sixth Sense premium product range. While we believe there is real potential revenue upside from the client base we are acquiring, our financial model does not depend on any revenue synergies and in fact, contemplates some revenue dis-synergies as a result of potential client overlap.
Based on our projections, the Hot Jobs business when integrated into Monster will represent an increase in our North American segment of between 20% and 25% on a full year basis.
Now operating expense. Since we are acquiring limited fixed assets and we are assuming little cross other than direct personnel cross, mostly sales, and amortization of intangibles.
We estimate that at close 275 Hot Jobs staff will become Monster’s. Since Hot Jobs and Monster are in similar businesses, it is logical that there will be cross synergies to be realized, but in line with our own operating expense strategy. We will be maintaining much of the sales resource to service our expanded client base.
Marketing spend resulting from the traffic deal, our modeling assumes that the revenue steam resulting from the acquisition will fully cover the payments pursuant to the traffic deal. As mentioned, the traffic deal is based on clicks and ELI’s and it’s heavily weighted toward ELI’s.
We are confident that Yahoo will deliver clicks and ELI’s at a level which earn the full capped amount and our model assumes full payment of the capped amount. The amount that Yahoo delivers traffic in excess of the capped amount, our employers and seekers will of course benefit.
Transitional costs. There will be a number of truly one-time costs associated with the acquisition and integration of the assets. Among those are fees associated with the transaction, the company was represented by Stone Key and Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Allen and Co. has provided opinion.
In addition, there will be retention of severance costs as well as technology integration costs.
Based on these assumptions and based on the economy as we see it today, we believe that in 2010 transaction will be break even to pro forma earnings per share and will be cash flow neutral after absorbing the one-time cost associated with the transaction.
2011 and beyond, the transaction will be meaningful accretive to revenue EBITDA and EPS.
Considering the form of the currency of the acquisition, which as you know is $225 million cash, the company has been guided by the principle that Monster has substantial value, which is not fully reflected in our share price, and thus we have zealously guarded our equity.
Given the current liquidity position, the improvement in the composition of our liquidity as a result of our settlement with RBC, the improvement in the capital markets and most importantly the outlook for our business and the acquisition, we believe we have comfortable liquidity to finance the transaction in cash and continue to invest in the franchise as appropriate.
I will now turn the call back to Sal to wrap up.
Before taking questions, let me take a few minutes to summarize our key message points.
For the past years, we have make significant progress in rebuilding and repositioning Monster for the long term.
Without question, the first quarter will be physical from a P&L perspective; however, we are convinced that it is the right thing to do to build the business for the longer term.
We have seen improved customer trends around the globe. This improvement, combined with the trajectory of our business reinforces our commitment to continue to invest in Monster to increase sales and position us to benefit as the economy strengthens.
We’ve never been more encouraged and more optimistic about Monster’s future.
In the event of the economy loses its momentum, I guarantee you, the company will not lose its momentum, but in case the economy does lose its momentum, we will act quickly and decisively to curtail certain investments during the short term.
The acquisition of Hot Jobs and the traffic agreement with Yahoo will provide even greater scale for our global platform, new customers, and millions of engaged seekers. It leverages all we’ve done at a time when the economy is rebounding.
Now any time you do a transaction of this type, particularly with the complexity of both an acquisition as well as the traffic deal, dozens spent countless hours to make this happen. That team was led by Tim Yates, Mike Miller, and Mark Stoever and I’d like to just thank them. This was a long and interesting negotiation. I’m sure the people at Yahoo are saying exactly the same thing at this point and there’s plenty of work to be done between now and the close of the transaction.
I’d also like to thank all of our customers, our shareholders, our associates for their support and confidence, in particular our global associates delivered and did an outstanding job in a really tough environment. They remain our greatest asset, without question.
With that, we’ll open it up for questions.
(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes Mark S. Mahaney - Citigroup Smith Barney.
Mark S. Mahaney - Citigroup Smith Barney
I wanted to ask about the Hot Jobs transaction, whether it was competitively bid for and whether there were other assets you were also looking at and whether you would still consider other acquisitions going forward for international expansion?
We’ve been dealing with Yahoo directly. I’m not aware of anything other than the conversations that they’ve had with us. Obviously we’re always looking at other things that might be available on the market. Right now there’s nothing specific.
I think our first priority is to do a really good job integrating this and welcoming the Hot Jobs staff to Monster.
Your next question comes from Monica DiCenso - JP Morgan Securities.
Monica DiCenso - JP Morgan Securities
Can I get a little more color on international expansion and how that type into Hot Jobs and how much left might be there? Then also on the small or medium sized businesses, if you could talk a little more about how the business bounced back, given that it will be a larger portion of revenues.
What we’ve been doing is shifting resource. We started in the second half of last year and are accelerating that. We put a senior member of our org in charge of moving into markets, particularly in Eastern Europe more aggressively than we have and certainly in Latin America. Countries, for example, like Brazil, we think present enormous opportunity and we need to capture some of that activity.
In Asia, the story is the same. Obviously we’re well anchored with our business in India, in China with China HR, and we’re very proud of our team and business in Korea, but there’s still plenty of opportunities to further develop our footprint in countries where we are in existence. For example, Singapore, Malaysia, etc. and countries where we do not have a presence.
Yahoo transaction impacts in several ways. First of all, we do have the number one global firm in our industry that this gives opportunity for us to better service our multi-national customers both outside and inside the US by being able to offer a broader array of seekers of candidates for jobs.
The agreement also calls for us to be able to where Yahoo is strong is to set up traffic agreements similar to what we’ve done in US in other countries, which will in turn improve the seeker inventory coming to Monster and promote growth in those areas.
My comments are without the Hot Jobs acquisition, so from and SMB perspective, we’re seeing the business conditions start to ease a bit around what’s happening in the economy. We are seeing a greater take rate as relates to our PRS, our Sixth Sense product. When I look at where we’re selling volumes of that product, it is in that SMB space.
So in terms of overall sales growth, I think we can expect to see greater impact from PRS in general.
We also, from a sales deployment perspective, are spending a lot of time looking at customers who used to do business with us, but aren’t currently and are reaching back to those customers. So we’re finding great success with that. Further, we’re reaching out to many new customers. There’s volumes of opportunity in the SMB space with companies who haven’t done business with us in the past and again with a strength and value proposition and PRS I think we can make great headway there.
Your next question comes from Tim McHugh - William Blair & Co.
Tim McHugh - William Blair & Co.
Can you give us color around the customer reaction adoption of the new search product and the pricing for that? Second, Tim, your comments about 3 to 6% expense growth and your comments about expense growth of 10 to 15% in Q1. Was that off of Q4 or was that off an annual run rate or annual average?
James M. Langrock
The 10 to 15% is off of the Q4. The 3 to 6% is off of the annual number.
Tim McHugh - William Blair & Co.
The new search product, any details or color?
James M. Langrock
I think at the risk of sounding overly exuberant, the reaction has been very strong. Words like “wow, tremendous, terrific, we really did it” all come to mind.
The customers have been very impressed with it. The significant majority of customers have also been satisfied to pay the premium. There are always customers out there that think it’s a great product, but wondering why we’re not even charging less for it. But vast majority are not only satisfied, but we’re really not getting any type of significant push back with regard to the pricing.
What we’re seeing from our customers is basically what we were hoping to see and that is a more efficient process. When we see the reactions we get from our customers, it sells itself. We’re finding our sales force has rallied around this product. It’s easy to use, easy to demonstrate, and the ability to take the concept and show the customer the value around it is very easy.
From a sales perspective, walking into Q4 and announcing the product in October and the results that we’ve seen from the product or beyond my imagination, we had a high bar in mind and we actually blew through that high bar relevant to what we were expecting in a way of sales and that continues into this quarter as well.
We’ve had great success with it. The customers love, our sales reps love it, and I think it’s going to be a big contributor to our success this year.
I’d like to add one thing. I’m going to ask Darko to comment for a moment with regard to the expansion of Sixth Sense to other countries in the coming months and quarters.
We’re already rolled out in UK in beta in December. That’s going well. We are planning to full blown this coming quarter. Canada launch just a couple of weeks ago. France is going live the end of Q1. We’re also looking at a couple of additional markets overseas right after that. We’re also going to launch it in Australia later in the year.
The product and feels great to the customers and they’re responding amazingly. So we are planning to launch this product on top of it. We have several other products that we will use Sixth Sense technology to launch in the subsequent two or three quarters and we think is going to be a big differentiator in the marketplace as the (?) search is today.
Your next question comes from James Mitchell – Goldman Sachs
James Mitchell – Goldman Sachs
I think you’re looking for revenues to be flat in first quarter. I understand that deferred revenue is still down year-on-year, but deferred revenue is up quarter-on-quarter. Could you talk about going into first quarter reported revenue and whether you’d expect reported revenue positive sequentially in the second quarter.
You’re right observing on a sequential basis the deferred revenue in the fourth quarter was up as we said, at the higher end of our expectation. So that gives us better under-pinnings going into 2010.
So we feel good about that. On the other hand, on a year-over-year basis, the deferred revenue starting year is quite a bit less. So as that rolls through the remainder of the year, that will have an impact, which is being made up in sales activity.
Your next question comes from Toby Summer - SunTrust Robinson Humphrey.
Toby Summer - SunTrust Robinson Humphrey
I was wondering if you could talk about deferred revenue a little bit more. What the selling season was like in terms of more or less customers coming into contracts for longer or shorter duration periods and then your thoughts on margin potential in the business if the expansion continues for a few years.
We are winning new customers. So there are more customers and more of our existing customers are renewing. Certainly an increase than they did last year, where they were cutting their budget substantially. So I would say more customers, but primarily at this stage of the game, existing customers taking up their spend with us and we believe at the expense of our targeted competitors.
We have not seen a major shift in the terms of the contracts.
If you take the equation I laid out in our sales increasing 15% and you’re growing your expense at a significant percentage less than that, as we have said all along. So a couple of years of that happening, which we believe because a lot of the spend has been done, does get us to the kind of margins we’ve been talking about. We don’t want anyone to think that there isn’t the need to spend some more to develop the market. There is; however, as using this year as a proxy, sales up 15 to 20% and cost up 3 to 6%.
Looking at the customers that spend $25,000 or more annually in the Q4, what we’re seeing is we’re getting a larger model share, mostly driven by selling multiple products to these customers, including job posting, resume, and media products, and another big aspect of that is our global presence and our footprint there.
The majority of customers have either spent what they spent with us last year or spending more with us. In Q4, we saw very few customers not renew with us. We also think that there are additional requirements that we’re seeing in Q4 that we didn’t see last year. So I think there are a couple of drivers in there. One, it’s just a better value proposition focusing on our customer and as a result, we’re getting more wallet share and two, I think the multi products are really making a big impact.
The next question comes from Mark Macon – Robert W. Baird
Mark Macon – Robert W. Baird
Can you talk about what you’ve seen actually in terms of posting activity in January relative to the last couple of months?
We saw a significant increase in sales in virtually every country across every product. Postings included. I do not believe we saw anything that was pushed in in Q4 from a usage basis or do I see anything in January to indicate that the trend describing is breaking. We’ve been very, very cautious to indicate where the market is and where we see levels of activity. We’ve been very cautious and not overstating what we see.
I think Q4 surprised us in terms of the robustness of the buy that was out there. I think a good measure of it was greater confidence in the economy, a piece of it was a mix of product aided by Sixth Sense. I think is such that there is really growing evidence.
Mark Macon – Robert W. Baird
Can you talk a little bit about Sixth Sense in terms of since it’s been introduced, what percentage of clients signed up for new packages and taken Sixth Sense and what sort of premium you got?
The majority of our customers that are renewing licenses are going with Sixth Sense at this point. Again, take that for what it’s worth in the sense that what we see is very encouraging, right? It is based on approximately six weeks or so of selling maybe a little bit longer and we’ve got a long way to go, but as of this point the vast majority of what we’re selling is Sixth Sense and I think the momentum of that will build as more people are exposed to it.
With that, let me end the call. Once again, thank you for joining us this afternoon. You can access the call on the Investor Relations section of the Monster Worldwide website, and as always please feel free to call me anytime at 212-351-7032 with any further questions. Thank you very much.
Watch for the Super Bowl.
Ladies and gentlemen, this does conclude today’s conference call. You may now disconnect.
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