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LinkedIn second-quarter revenue forecast falls short of targets

The logo for LinkedIn Corporation, a social networking networking website for people in professional occupations, is shown in Mountain View,
The logo for LinkedIn Corporation, a social networking networking website for people in professional occupations, is shown in Mountain View,

By Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - LinkedIn Corp shares fell 10 percent on Thursday after disappointing revenue forecasts suggested that a revamped mobile app and other new products designed to keep smartphone users engaged will not deliver on advertising growth as quickly as anticipated.

The social network that targets professional users and specializes in recruiting services has in past months introduced a series of enhancements such as news content for mobile devices, to keep users signed in longer and sell more advertising.

But on Thursday, executives warned that its advertising business will undergo "a more moderate growth" than its other services. Its fledgling, mobile-oriented "newsfeed" ads - or promotions that appear directly in a users' stream of content - remained in testing and would only be introduced gradually.

"We're seeing some encouraging early signs but it's off a very small scale right now," LinkedIn Finance Chief Steve Sordello said on a conference call on Thursday.

The weaker-than-expected forecast came as LinkedIn's financial results for the first three months of the year blew past analysts estimates, marking the eighth consecutive quarter the company topped Wall Street targets.

The winning streak has helped drive the stock up 74 percent since the start of the year, creating what some analysts said were overheated Wall Street expectations.

"The stock is somewhat a victim of its own success," said Needham & Co analyst Kerry Rice.

"They had a really big acceleration in Q4," said Rice. "So I think the market kind of expected similar results in Q1 and throughout 2013."

LinkedIn said its current-quarter revenue would range from $342 million to $347 million, below the $359.3 million expected on average by analysts.

Although LinkedIn hiked its full-year revenue forecast by $20 million on Thursday, the high end of the forecast range was below the average analyst estimate of $1.49 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

RISING PAGE VIEWS

LinkedIn, with 225 million members, has been a star in a mostly disappointing social media sector, outperforming the stock market performance of companies such as Facebook Inc and Zynga Inc.

But LinkedIn's business faces the same challenge confronting all Web companies, as consumers increasingly access the Internet through smartphones instead of PCs.

Last month, LinkedIn introduced revamped mobile apps that will for the first time allow it to show ads on smartphones' small screens. And it has introduced various new features in recent months aimed at enticing members to spend more time on its site.

Those efforts appear to be bearing some fruit, with LinkedIn reporting that page views increased 63 percent year-on-year in the first quarter.

"Their overall engagement relative to Facebook on a per member basis is still very low," said Tom White, an analyst with Macquarie Research.

But, he said, the stream of new features and products unveiled by LinkedIn in recent months are causing members to visit the site more often - which would help its ad business over time.

LinkedIn's recruiting business, which accounts for 57 percent of LinkedIn's total revenue, performed strongly in the first quarter will continue to grow at a healthy clip throughout the year, the company said on Thursday.

Net income for the first quarter rose to $22.6 million, or 20 cents a share, from $5 million, or 4 cents a share, over the same period. Excluding certain items, LinkedIn said it earned 45 cents a share in the first quarter, well above the 31 cents expected by analysts.

Revenue in the first three months of the year rose 72 percent to $324.7 million from $188.5 million in the year-ago period.

LinkedIn shares slid about 10 percent to $181 from a close of $201.67 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker)

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