May 18, 1999 6:40 PM PDT

eBay acquires two firms

eBay made two acquisitions today using its high-priced stock as currency, scooping up a credit card payment firm and a company in the auto collectibles market to resume pushing its way into pricier merchandise.

As it continued an acquisitions binge begun with last month's much-remarked purchase of venerable auction house Butterfield & Butterfield, eBay also signaled an interest in expanding in the auto market.

The San Jose, California, company said it would issue shares worth a total of $275 million for Billpoint and Kruse International, with the deals due to close by July. eBay declined to specify the purchase prices separately.

Billpoint enables person-to-person credit card payments over the Internet, helping buyers and sellers settle up, while Kruse runs approximately 40 car auctions each year, selling about 14,000 vehicles. It also employs specialists who appraise, authenticate, and rate a wide range of automobiles and networks with collectors and dealers around the world.

"This is a launching pad for us to get into the car market, and we're entering into the logical place," said eBay senior vice president of marketing Brian Swette in an interview.

The collectible car market is roughly half a billion dollars a year, he added, compared to the broader car market, counted in the billions. "We think the car market is an attractive market for us," Swette added.

Moving into auto auctions would increase eBay's average selling price, thus boosting its revenues. That also was the goal of eBay's $260 million acquisition of Butterfield & Butterfield, a highbrow, 134-year-old auction house.

Billpoint's technology could reduce the time required for eBay members to complete a transaction by three to seven days, said Mike Wilson, eBay's senior vice president of product development and site operations.

Billpoint's system, still in testing, involves Billpoint's software becoming the "master merchant" and processing transactions for members. As such, it introduces both a new revenue source and additional risk into eBay's business model.

"Billpoint and others have developed technology to detect fraud in this area, and we view it as a small risk that we would be managing carefully," Wilson said.

Billpoint will operate as a wholly-owned eBay subsidiary and will be encouraged to use its technology to facilitate transactions for other Internet commerce firms, he said.

Kruse International, a 75-employee company based in Auburn, Indiana, has a premium name in the collectible car market, Swette said. It has about 400,000 registered collectors, helps locate parts for out-of-stock cars, and provides other information and services to car collectors.

"They are the offline version of eBay in collectible cars," Swette said.

As for eBay's plans for the used car market, Swett said: "We'll do the same thing as we did for Beanie Babies--create a national market that is easy, fast, informative, and has community built around it."

The company will remain in Indiana, but the new bidding engine will be run out of eBay's San Jose headquarters. eBay plans to continue the real-world car auctions that Kruse now runs.

eBay said the two transactions may slightly dilute earnings for the remainder of 1999, and both will be accounted for as "pooling of interest" transactions. eBay also may recognize some one-time expenses related to the acquisitions in its second quarter financials.

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