California-based Autobytel Inc. (NASDAQ:ABTL), a leading provider of digital automotive services connecting in-market car buyers with dealers and OEMs, has reported financial results for the first quarter ended March 31, 2017.
The company's total revenues increased to a record $37.3 million, up 8% vs. the prior year adjusted quarter. The increase was primarily driven by the continued strong growth of advertising click revenues, which increased 152% to $6.5 million. The increase in revenue was partially offset by the effect of the systematic reduction of lower quality leads supply over the course of 2016.
Gross profit in the first quarter was $12.9 million compared to an adjusted $13.2 million in the year-ago quarter, with the decrease driven by increased traffic acquisition and optimization costs. In-line with expectations, gross margin was 34.6%. The company continues to expect gross margin to remain in the mid-30% range over the coming quarters as it focuses on increased traffic and technology development and the optimization of traffic acquisition costs.
"The momentum from our record 2016 has carried into the first quarter," said Jeff Coats, president and CEO of Autobytel. "Our results were highlighted by another quarter of triple-digit growth in our clicks business, which is becoming a meaningful contributor to our overall financial performance."
Autobytel's advertising earnings increased 112% to a record $8.0 million, with click revenues up 152% to $6.5 million.
Net income in the first quarter of 2017 was $0.5 million or $0.04 per diluted share, compared to an adjusted net loss of $0.7 million or $(0.07) per share in the year-ago quarter. The increase was driven by the aforementioned growth of advertising click revenues and reduced operating expenses in the year-ago quarter.
Non-GAAP income increased 24% to $3.5 million or $0.26 per diluted share, compared to an adjusted $2.8 million or $0.21 per diluted share in the first quarter of 2016 (see "Note about Non-GAAP Financial Measures" below for further discussion).
"Looking ahead, we expect to continue reinvesting in our business to drive sustainable, long-term organic growth and further solidify Autobytel's position as a leader in the digital automotive marketplace. We also expect to continue to enhance our internal lead generation capabilities and invest in new traffic sources to maximize the growth potential of our clicks and used car businesses," concluded Coats.
Total operating expenses in the first quarter of 2017 decreased 18% to $11.7 million compared to an adjusted $14.2 million in the year-ago quarter. The decrease was driven by non-recurring expenses in the year-ago quarter, including $1.3 million of severance expense, as well as business optimization initiatives and lower headcount. As a percentage of revenues, total operating expenses were 31.3% compared to an adjusted 41.1% in the prior year quarter. The company expects operating expenses as a percentage of revenues to continue in the low 30% range as it increases investments in technology, and sales and marketing resources in 2017.
At March 31, 2017, cash and cash equivalents totaled $39.6 million compared to $38.5 million (unadjusted) at December 31, 2016. Total debt was reduced to $20.4 million compared to $23.1 million (unadjusted) at December 31, 2016.
Autobytel continues to expect 2017 revenue to range between $156.0 million and $160.0 million, representing an increase of approximately 4% to 7% from 2016. The company also expects non-GAAP income to range between $16.8 million and $17.3 million, representing an increase of up to approximately 3% from 2016, with non-GAAP diluted EPS ranging between $1.24 and $1.28 on 13.5 million shares.