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Vertro, Inc. (NASDAQ:VTRO)

Q1 2010 Earnings Call Transcript

May 11, 2010 8:00 am ET

Executives

Alex Vlasto – VP, Marketing &Communications

Peter Corrao – President and CEO

Mike Cutler – CFO

Analysts

Eric Martinuzzi – Craig-Hallum

John Gilliam – Point Clear

Aram Fuchs – Fertilemind Capital

Operator

Good day ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Vertro first quarter 2010 financial results conference call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we'll conduct a question-and-answer session and instructions will be given at that time. (Operator Instructions). As a reminder, today's conference call is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference to your host Mr. Alex Vlasto, Vice President of Marketing and Communications. Please go ahead, sir.

Alex Vlasto

Thank you Ally and good morning everyone. Welcome to Vertro's first quarter 2010 financial results conference call. Joining me on the call today are President and CEO, Peter Corrao; Mike Cutler, CFO; and John Pisaris, our General Counsel.

I would like to remind everybody that today's comments include forward-looking statements. These statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results and events to differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements. These risks and uncertainties will be outlined at the end of this conference call, and are also detailed in our filings with the SEC.

To begin, let's review how we measure our financial performance. In addition to the standard GAAP measurements, we utilized certain profitability-based metrics to evaluate our period-to-period and year-over-year performance. They are adjusted EBITDA, adjusted net income straight loss, and adjusted net income straight loss per share.

We believe that adjusted EBITDA, adjusted net income/loss and adjusted net income/loss per share provide meaningful measures for comparison of the Company's current and projected operating performance with its historical results due to the significant changes in the non-cash amortization that began in 2004 primarily due to certain intangible assets resulting from mergers and acquisitions that have since been written off.

Vertro defines adjusted EBITDA as EBITDA earnings before interest, income taxes, depreciation and amortization plus non-cash compensation expenses and plus or minus certain identified revenues and expenses that are not expected to recur or be representative of future ongoing operation of the business.

Vertro uses EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA as internal measures of its business and believes they utilize this important measure of performance by the investment community. Vertro sets goals and awards bonuses in part based on performance relative to adjusted EBITDA.

Vertro defines adjusted net income straight loss as net income straight loss plus amortization and non cash compensation expenses plus or minus certain identified revenues or expenses that are not expected to recur or be representatives of future ongoing operation of the business.

In each case, including the tax effect if any of the adjustment, Vertro defines adjusted net income straight loss per share as the adjusted net income straight loss as previously described divided by the average basic or fully diluted number of outstanding shares of Vertro's common stock over the reported period.

For a detailed review of our first quarter 2010 results including the corresponding GAAP financial measures and a reconciliation of our non-GAAP financial measures to GAAP financial measures, please refer to the press release we issued today, the accompanying key metric slides and to our Form 10-Q for Q1 2010.

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 and a replay of the conference call will be available for 90 days from today.

I'd now like to turn the call over to our President and CEO, Peter Corrao. Peter?

Peter Corrao

Thanks Alex. Good morning and welcome to today's call. We appreciate having you all with us today. Q1 was a solid quarter in which we achieved 31% year-over-year revenue growth, added cash to our balance sheet and delivered on our forecast of EBITDA profitability for the second consecutive quarter.

Over the course of the quarter, we achieved growth in certain key user metrics. Total search queries conducted by all users across product increased by 6%, our total live user based increased by 30% and we increased average monthly homepage unique users by 70%. You will be able to find a detailed breakdown of these user metrics in the slides we issued in conjunction with our earnings release.

Q1 revenue, net income and EBITDA were all in line with the forecast we outlined on our last quarterly call. As a reminder, we expect the Q1 revenue to be broadly in line with Q4 as a result of a start in the year with lower installed user base due to the effects of seasonality.

By contrast, we started Q2 with an increased user base and we expect to continue to grow this user base for the remainder of the year, until December, when we expect again the same issues of seasonality. As a result of this growth, we continue to expect sequential quarterly revenue growth and EBITDA profitability throughout 2010.

There are a range of initiatives that we believe will help to drive this growth and I want to spend some time sharing details about some of these with you. Over the course of 2010, today we've achieved sustained efficiencies in our media buying. By that I mean that there are certain key channels and we've been able to acquire the same quality of toolbar and homepage user but for a lower cost.

We believe these efficiencies can be attributed to a number of different factors, one of which is our continued expansion into new micro segments, both nationally and internationally. Today we have more than 250 micro segmented ALOT products available for download and we are now actively marketing our products into approximately 20 different countries and have users in 200 different countries.

Though the questions were often asked by investors related to scalability and specifically whether we believe that will the reach a point beyond which we can no longer cost effectively expand our user base. We think that the success that we've achieved to date through our vertical and international expansion helps to answer this quarter and highlights a significant potential that exists for our continued growth.

To put it into context, I thought it would be useful to walk you through the process we go through to test and launch our new verticals. First, our editorial and marketing teams work together to agree which micro segmented groups we're going to target. Once identified the editorial team will then developed new buttons, toolbars, home pages using our proprietary content management system. Once these new products of development are balancing then chest them through various customer acquisition channels, which may include display ad, CPA, bundled partners, Pay-Per-Click Ads and frankly it's usually a combination of ALOT.

As soon we start to acquire users in the new vertical, we then begin to run analysis on the value these users are likely to deliver in revenue over the course of the year and then beyond. This analysis is managed to our proprietary life time value model which leverages the extensive real time and historic data that we have in our disposal. If then appears, we're likely to achieve through our new vertical or either equal to or greater than our existing verticals, then we expand the test. If not, we will optimize a new product and our buying strategy before deciding whether not the vertical is worth for pursuing in the long-term proposition.

The whole process typically takes around a month or so to complete. After that we'll then continue to optimize successful new verticals through editorial and buying channel. Importantly these tests are not very expensive for us to operate. We believe that there are extensive numbers of micro segmented groups so we can target in this way both nationally and internationally, and that's why we expect to be able to continue to scale our operation. Of course, requiring new users is only half the story. Retaining and monetizing those users is also central to our continued success.

We talked at our last call about the record lows that we've achieved in our attrition rate. We believe one of the key factors driving these improvements and enhancements we've made to both our technology and the content we offer users. A good recent example of our content enhancements is our new radio button. I think I've said most of you on the phone an example of that new button.

It was designed and built internally and enables our toolbar users to listen to 10s of 1000s of radio stations from around the world. The new button was introduced in Q1, 2010. It has already become the top five buttons for us in terms of consumer users. We've more than a 1000 buttons available to our users to choose from today. The buttons range from links to third party content which is most of them. Through to buttons that offer far richer user experience such as our radio button and our recently launched e-mail notifier that enables people to check their e-mail directly from their toolbar or home page.

We believe that offering our users even more relevant dynamic content through our button library helps us to increase engagement and in turn improve retention rates. As a result, content will continued to be a key focus for us as we move through 2010. I want to move on briefly now to discuss our NASDAQ situation. On April 12, we announced that NASDAQ granted our request for an extension of time to comply with the $1 minimum bid share price.

In accordance with this decision of NASDAQ's panel on or before September 13th of 2010, we must evidence a closing bid price of a $1 or more for a minimum 10 higher consecutive days. Under NASDAQ's rule, the September deadline represents the maximum length of time that which should have been granted to regain our compliance in addition to the minimum bid price requirement in NASDAQ stockholder equity requirement.

As a result on February 14th 2010 NASDAQ granted our request for continued listings on the capital market subject to the conditions on or before June 14th of 2010, we achieve a minimum of $2.5 million in stockholder equity. While we close Q1, 2010 with $2.3 million in stockholder equity, in relation, to this amount of stockholder equity and its reported earlier today, we've entered into a reserve equity finance and agreement with Aegis Capital for cash consideration of up, up to $2 million subject to certain conditions and limitations.

We believe that this financial gain will help us to meet NASDAQ's $2.5 million stockholder equity requirement if we're able to meet the requirement to a continued growth in operations by June 14th deadline. The Company's current plan is to draw an amount under this agreement, sufficient to regain compliance with NASDAQ requirement while limiting delusion for our shareholders. We will keep our shareholders and our stakeholders updated as we progressed to and through the June 14th deadline.

Before handing that over to Mike, I want to conclude today by saying you know how excited we're by our current performance and how excited we're about the potential we believe the future holds for us. We think we have a highly scalable product portfolio which is improving all the time through a combination of technology updates and editorial enhancement. We further believe that we can continue to scale our user base over the course of 2010, and that we will deliver against our forecast of sequential top line growth and EBITDA profitability throughout 2010 and I'll look forward updating you on our progress.

With that said, let me turn the call over to Mike who will cover our financial results. Mike?

Mike Cutler

Thank you, Peter and good morning everyone. We're excited to report that we believe – what we believe is a solid first quarter. Revenue, EBITDA and net income were all in line with our expectations and we achieved strong growth in our live user base and associated search volumes.

Our Q1 results benefited from a $.3 million gain from the sale of our screensavers.com internet domain name. We felt that the screensavers website no longer fit with our long-term strategy for the business, and we were pleased to complete the sale. We continue to look at our existing assets including other domain names and we will proactively attempt to the divest those that we believe are no longer core to our business.

Revenue for Q1, 2010 was $8.1 million up 31% from the $6.2 million we reported in Q1 of 2009 and up marginally from the $8.0 million we reported in Q4, 2009. As Peter mentioned in his prepared remarks, a relatively flat quarter-over-quarter performance was expected and was due primarily to the effects of seasonality.

EBITDA was $0.5 million in Q1, 2010, our second consecutive EBITDA profit and a $0.1 million increase from the $0.4 million EBITDA we reported for Q4 2009. Q1 2010 EBITDA included $0.2 million non cash compensation expense and a $0.3 million gain from the sale of the screensavers.com domain Q4 2009 EBITDA included $0.2 million non cash compensation expense and a $0.4 million gain from the sale of a patent.

Adjusted EBITDA was $0.4 million in Q1 2010 compared to adjusted EBITDA of $0.3 million in Q4 2009. Q1 2010 adjusted EBITDA excluded $0.2 non-cash comp expense and a $0.3 million gain from the sale of a domain. Q4 2009 adjusted EBITDA excluded $0.2 million non cash comp expense and a $0.4 million gain from the sale of a patent. Cash and cash equivalents increased from $4.8 million at December 31st 2009 to $5.2 million at March 31st 2010.

The increase was primarily a result of cash generated from the sale of screensavers.com. In addition to the strengthened cash position, we also have the added security of a $5.0 million credit line with Bridge Bank which we announced at the end of December 2009. We believe that securing this line of credit was a vote of confidence on our business model and financial outlook. We have no immediate plans to draw on this line for cash for operation.

GAAP net income was $0.5 million or $0.02 per basic share in Q1 2010 compared to GAAP net income of $0.8 million or $0.02 per basic share in Q4 2009. Q1 2010 GAAP net income included a $0.3 million gain from the sale of a domain. Q4 2009 GAAP net income included a $0.4 million gain from the sale of a patent and a $0.3 million tax benefit.

Operating expenses were $7.4 million in Q1 2010, marginally below the $7.5 million we reported in Q4 2009. Operating expenses in Q1 2010 and Q4 2009 include a $0.2 million of non cash compensation expense and $4.9 million in advertising spend. We continue to expect our operating expenses, excluding advertising spend to remain flat to slightly down throughout 2010. The potential decrease could be achieved through savings in certain corporate costs as a result of us operating a more streamlined operation following the sale of MIVO media.

As of March 31st 2010, we had 42 full time employees comparable with the number we reported at the end of Q4 2009. As Peter mentioned we believe that growing user base and the resulting increase in the number of searches we have available for monetization will deliver sequential quarterly revenue growth and EBITDA profitability throughout 2010. We are exited by our prospects and look forward to updating you with our progress.

With that said, I now turn the call back to Peter for some concluding remarks. Peter?

Peter Corrao

Thanks Mike. So for the current quarter we will focus on continuing to expand our user base and enhancing the content that we offer to our users. We'll also strive to achieve further efficiencies in our customer acquisition strategy. Now with that said, let me turn the call back to Alex for a Q&A Session.

Alex Vlasto

Thanks Peter. So available for questions this morning we have Peter, Mike and General Counsel John Pisaris. Ali, let me hand it back to you.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Our first question comes from Eric Martinuzzi of Craig-Hallum. Please go ahead.

Eric Martinuzzi – Craig-Hallum

Good morning gentlemen. Congratulations on the solid execution in Q1. The revenue growth that you've talked about for the guidance for the remainder of the year, I've heard you say in the past, revenue growth high single digits to low double digits sequentially. You're comfortable with that characterization of your outlook?

Peter Corrao

Yes, so Eric, just to be clear, we said that but we didn't say that for Q1 because of seasonality, which I think we all know about. So we're happy to have revenue increase at all in Q1. After that though we're still sticking with the single digit to low double digit revenue growth for the rest of the quarters.

Eric Martinuzzi – Craig-Hallum

Okay. And what might be the levers that would be at the lower end of that and at the higher end of that. Is it seasonality that would impact one or the other or is it just what you guys decide to….

Peter Corrao

No its good question Eric and you and I have talked about this before, this very thing. For us, the key is we're continuing to enjoy efficiencies, pretty dramatic efficiencies quarter-over-quarter but not much kind of week-over-week right now in our buying effort. Buying frankly sort of flattened out for us but at a good place compared to where it was six months ago for sure.

So if we continue to drive efficiencies in buying and continue to expand our markets where it looks like we've got better margins on forecasted revenues, we would probably push that growth up a little bit. With that we'd get revenue growth up a little bit. If that begins to flatten because we're so interested in making sure that we make an increased continued EBITDA profit, we sort of have the self metering effect going in here that we really don't want growth that isn't coming in and equal to greater margins than what we've had in the past.

So I don't want to say that we've got unlimited growth potential if we didn't care about that. But the fact is we could drive revenue quite a bit higher on a quarter-by-quarter basis if we were not worried about having EBITDA go along with it. So in a little bit of a way we're sort of metering ourselves in terms of our revenue growth to make sure that quarter-on-quarter our EBITDA increases with it and our cash increases with that.

Now that's not just for optics. If you remember, it wasn't that many quarters ago before we had sort of turned the quarter in to this continued profitability and continued cash accretion for the company, we didn't have an option but to do that because we didn't know if we had enough cash. At least the market was betting but we didn't have enough cash to make it to Valhalla here.

So we think we're past that now but we still want to closely meter our cash, closely monitor what our situation is and it looks like that will steer us into driving ourselves to this sort of high single digit, low double digit growth so that we can continue to take our EBITDA earnings with us.

Eric Martinuzzi – Craig-Hallum

Okay. And then on the partner side, obviously you've got two pretty important partners, one, the most important partner. I know those relationships ebb and flow over time. Have there been any changes in particular with Google? They've been changing a little bit how they display their search results. They've changed a little bit the partners, the syndicate partners. Have there been any tweaks there or is that contract still pretty fireproof.

Peter Corrao

Well the contract for us is we're late middle if you will of our second two year agreement with Google. In terms of Google making demands on us for changes that I can think of, we haven't had any Eric. But I could be wrong. But certainly nothing substantial.

However when you talked about displaying search results, I'm not exaggerating. We probably have 100 tests going at any given time some place and we're, kind of our standard page, which is I think standard anymore is about six left hand adds and about seven right hands with our average page.

We have those ranging from nothing on the right Eric to seven or eight on the left. We kind of tested them all and the standard any more for us in terms of search results is becoming sort of by vertical standard. So it's almost to the point where inside the 250 verticals, we're delivering a different content results for everybody. But that said, our request, not at Google or Yahoo!'s request.

Eric Martinuzzi – Craig-Hallum

And then on the buy side, you don't get the sense if there is any limitations on historic buying capability?

Peter Corrao

Well all of the Pay-Per-Click guys and then the result of that is a lot of the CPA guys have pretty tough restrictions put on them by Google and Yahoo! as do we. But again, that I can think of – nothing's changed in our buy side relationships with any of the search engines but specifically with Google and Yahoo! which I think, I assume is the two you meter the most important to us and they sort of are.

Nothing has changed on our end in terms of what we're able to advertise with them but I'll tell you we are very careful with both Google and Yahoo! not to interfere with what their protocol is for buying. I was just down at Google myself the last month I guess when I had discussions with our buy side team and we think we're in good stead with them but it doesn't mean you can do whatever you want to.

You have to very careful on what it is they're advertising and Google and Yahoo! are both concerned that what you claim you've got for consumers, is received by the consumer on the other end. So if we say get a free recipe, Google wants to certain as does Yahoo! that we really would give our consumers free recipes right. So nothing different has changed with either, substantially in the last quarter or two or three on that matter.

Eric Martinuzzi – Craig-Hallum

Okay and then lastly, you had some really good growth on rest of the world that kind of, the non region one as you refer to it, not only on the toolbar side but also on the homepage. Do you feel like there is an end in sight, that good growth rate or do you just feel like it's a question of how much effort you put to it.

Peter Corrao

Yes, it's pretty much just the effort and the testing that I talked about in my prepared remarks Eric. So for competitive reasons we've gotten out of the business of talking about what countries that we're testing in. But we continue to use our two early expansions, sort of the examples of goodness that can happen to us and that's Brazil and India. So here is two markets that we test it into, first went into each of the one or two verticals only, found that our ability to buy in and our ability to have a margin on the sale out was actually greater in Brazil, early testing in India than it was in our tier 1 English speaking markets.

We've certainly put a stack in the ground and are now about expanding into those markets. Having said that markets like Brazil, and India I don't like some of the verticals maybe 10 in each. So, there you got big countries like Brazil and India, and we maybe only got 10 different expansions into them and we've got dozens and dozens that we'll ultimately expand into. So they are hardly even tapped yet, but pretty much we're – I think I said in my prepared remarks were specifically and aggressively marketing 20 countries; seven of those are in what we always call the tier 1 countries.

The majority of the rest of them are Western European countries that we dabbled in, really got into officially where we supported languages that are less than a year ago, and then we're expanding into Asia and other parts of South America and we'll kind of keep a tight lift on which markets those are.

So, like I said we can test very inexpensively for a couple of $100 in buying and a relatively a little soft dollar expense on our media chain. We can get in to test a market, optimize a little bit and see if we've got something that will stick if. It does we're off about trying to get that market happening. So, I think you'd see the growth sort of metered about like it is with our tier 1 markets and we'll continue to have a little greater expansion there because we're not in a lot of those yet.

Eric Martinuzzi – Craig-Hallum

Thanks for taking my questions.

Peter Corrao

Sure. Thank you, Eric.

Operator

Our next question comes from John Gilliam of Point Clear. Please go ahead.

John Gilliam – Point Clear

Good morning gentlemen. Great job this quarter.

Peter Corrao

Thanks John.

John Gilliam – Point Clear

looking at the ads spent quarter-of-quarter, obviously like you addressed we always expect to see that a little lower in Q4 due to the seasonality, but it looks like it remained relatively constant Q1 over Q4, and I think you addressed that but I just want to be sure I was clear on that point. Is that really essentially due to the increased efficiencies in media buy? Would that be fair to say?

Peter Corrao

Yes. That's it exactly John, and to give you sets of how substantial it's been for us, I need to be careful about this number because we've got so much international buying and as you know we can buy some of these markets internationally for a lot less on a CPA basis, right. We need to be careful about that, and I don't want to mislead anybody. But back to our tier 1 markets, over the last let me think seven or eight months, we've had efficiencies in tier 1 of over 30%.

So, that strike point that I talk to all of our investors and perspective investors about of being able to get this tier 1 users in for a $1, well, that's always been sort of a fictitious number just around in for you guys as you know, but that $1 is more like $.70 or $0.72 now, and all of that's happened in the last like I said six, seven, eight months something like that. So, really what's happened there is just efficiencies as one.

The other basis of this ad spending wouldn't have been higher in Q1 is when we're forced to ramp down this is key to your question to John. When we're forced to ramp down like we're in December, that's the only time of the year that really happens for an extended period of time. In this case, it was what December 17th or whatever it was. We just couldn't get the traffic we wanted at the price we wanted, mostly as a result of Western Europe and are English speaking countries does not turning their computers on for the holidays and not coming back until I think it was the 4th of January or something.

That's one component to us, but the issue is though that with our various media buying methods and there are vast amounts of them as you know, you just cant turn them on, on a dime and then be back in business 8 o'clock Asia time, the morning of the day that we start. Thankfully it takes us about 15 days to ramp back up to, to do. So when we say we're on and buying again January 4th of 2010 we probably didn't get our buying up to where it was in December 10th or 12th until maybe the 16th or 17th of the month.

Two factors. One, you cant get back into business as quick as you'd like to the Monday after the long holiday of Christmas and New Year's and two we've been way more efficient. Now on that efficiency, I don't want our investors to think that we believe there's another 30% in tier 1.

I hope there is and it could be that way but boy it looks like we're liable to not have that kind of efficiency improvement in the next two or three quarters or if we did we would have some pretty substantial bottom line increases. So we're not predicting that now but we do think we could hold the efficiencies that we got.

John Gilliam – Point Clear

Okay, that's fantastic. Thank you very much gentlemen.

Peter Corrao

Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions). Our next question comes from Aram Fuchs of Fertilemind Capital. Please go ahead.

Aram Fuchs – Fertilemind Capital

Yes, just regarding the efficiency I was wondering if you can go into more detail on why you think you have to be more efficient. Is there a specific content category that you found, is there geography, is there another affiliate group beyond Google or any of the other majors?

Peter Corrao

Yes so, hi Aram, how are you? And I don't want to be too specific because that's a key competitive advantage for us. It is how we buy. But one of the things that we've done as you've seen is we've gone from, last time we talked about our number of verticals we talked about around 200 and now we're talking about our number of verticals at around 250. I think we're actually 260 or 275 as we sit here today. At the close of the quarter it's something like 250.

So when you take all of the sizzle out of it, all the tools, we've got to do a better job of buying. I think it probably nets that the single biggest thing do is expand verticals and when we expand those verticals, often we'll find sort of micro knits in countries and languages and verticals that don't have a lot of competition either in display. The background of all of these CPA networks is display adds and then the back of all of our Pay-Per-Click is just search engines right.

So depending on who the search engine and to spending on to the display is, you tend to find rich knits that we don't have a lot of competition, so the display can be brought more inexpensively and the search adds can be brought more expensively. I use this as an example and its not a good one because our – this particular vertical is so tiny we've got, I want to think we've only got 15,000 to 20,000 in this vertical around the world. But we've gotten to the point that in couple of our tier 1 countries, knitting is one of our verticals that we run into.

Well you can bet that knitting [ph] is a big one for us like soccer would be our celebrity gossip or some of these verticals which are recipes which are huge. But you can also bet that we're not paying much to get knitters, compared to what we pay to get real estate expert as an example and if they monetize well for us so it's a market that we wouldn't stay into. So the biggest thing besides proprietary tools that we use for buying, which we have plenty off would be expansion into other verticals, allows us to our quick testing to big markets where we know we're buying inexpensively, and at the same time can market and have a good margin on them.

Aram Fuchs – Fertilemind Capital

Great, thanks for your time.

Peter Corrao

Thank you Aram.

Operator

And I am showing no further questions at this time.

Alex Vlasto

Okay thanks Ally. This conference call contains certain forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Words or expressions such as plan, will, intend, anticipate, believe or expect or variation to such words and similar expressions are intended to identify such forward-looking statements. These statements are based on management's current expectations and are subject to uncertainty and changes in circumstances. Actual results may vary materially from the expectations contained in the forward-looking statements.

Key risks are described in Vertro's reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, including the Form 10-Q for Q1 2010. In addition, past performance cannot be relied upon as a guide to future performance. That concludes our call today. Thank you for listening.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude today's presentation. You may all disconnect and have a wonderful day.

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