The mobile market is a funny (well … frustrating) thing. In the past few years, the markets for smartphones and tablets have soared. That’s been great for the makers of said technology, but a host of companies — including Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) — haven’t been able to turn a commensurate boost in mobile traffic into sizable profits.
Not eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY).
The online auctioneer and PayPal parent apparently has cracked the mobile code. Last year, eBay generated an impressive $13 billion in mobile payments, which was well above its forecast of $10 billion. The company says it will exceed $20 billion in 2013.
Mobile growth helped to juice eBay’s fourth-quarter results, which saw sales jump 18% to $3.99 billion. Yes, profits did fall from $1.98 billion to $751 million during this period, though keep in mind that last year’s figure was impacted by the sale of Skype to Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).
To bolster mobile growth, eBay has focused on deep integration with its various properties. For example, PayPal saw a 24% increase in sales to $1.54 billion, thanks in part to a 15% improvement in active accounts, which now total 123 million.
PayPal, an online payment service, also has been moving aggressively into the brick-and-mortar retail space. It has struck deals with Home Depot (NYSE:HD), Foot Locker (NYSE:FL) and Jamba (NASDAQ:JMBA), as well as a blockbuster pact with Discover Financial (NYSE:DFS) that will make PayPal available at millions of merchants.
Ebay’s traditional marketplaces business also is seeing nice growth, with some credit going to a redesign of the interface. For Q4, sales jumped by 16% to $2.05 billion.
On eBay’s earnings call, CEO John Donahoe set forth a compelling vision. Despite mobile’s quick adoption — and his belief that it’s the “new normal” for e-commerce — he still thinks mobile is in its early stages, and that sets up eBay well for long-term growth.
The only thing raining on eBay’s parade — at least as far as potential new investors go — is its past performance. EBAY shares have run up 78% in the past year, which has added a little froth to current prices (EBAY currently trades at 18 times earnings, which appears fair but not a screaming value).
I expect EBAY’s ascent to continue at a more muted pace. But it will continue.
Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook, a site dedicated to the hottest news and rumors about initial public offerings. He is also the author of “How to Create the Next Facebook” and “High-Profit IPO Strategies: Finding Breakout IPOs for Investors and Traders.” Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.