Will PayPal be Bigger than eBay?

That PayPal now is thought to be a business eventually larger than eBay, its parent, could explain why eBay is spinning out PayPal as a separate company. Pressure from activist investor Carl Icahn is an important trigger for why it is being done now, however.

The spinout also shows how synergies between firms sometimes are not as great, nor as strategically important, as initially claimed.

Auctioneer eBay bought PayPal in 2002, at a time when the immediate issue seemed to be that PayPal increasingly was the preferred payment mechanism for eBay shoppers.

More than a decade later, the synergies arguably are less obvious than originally thought. Over time, PayPal’s revenue has outgrown its eBay activity.

PayPal has more than 152 million active registered accounts, with growth of about 15 percent year-over-year.

Revenue over the last 12 months grew by 19 percent over the prior year period to approximately $7.2 billion, eBay says.

PayPal facilitates one in every six dollars spent online today.

Total payments volume over the last 12 months increased by 26 percent to $203 billion. PayPal is fully localized in 26 currencies, is available in 203 markets worldwide and has relationships with 15,000 financial institutions.

Separation from eBay arguably will provide PayPal with more autonomy to compete in the payments space, particularly with respect to Apple Pay and other emerging mobile wallet providers.

In the United States, for example,  mobile proximity payments--payments made using a phone to make a physical transaction at the point of sale--will reach $3.5 billion in 2014, according to eMarketer estimates. By 2018, that figure is expected to reach $118 billion.

As a separate entity, PayPal has a chance to focus its efforts and compete more effectively, the logic suggests.

The other example of failed synergy, some would say, was Microsoft’s purchase of Skype. In 2011, when Microsoft bought Skype, the deal was viewed as a way for Microsoft to gain immediate stature in peer-to-peer communications, messaging and IP communications in general.

Whether the benefits are so clear is the question. In a narrow financial sense it does not seem there are significant benefits. Microsoft does not break out Skype earnings or revenue.

To be sure, there were other advantages. Skype was acquired to replace an ailing Windows Live Messenger. So the enterprise messaging platform Lync arguably was a beneficiary. Integration of Skype with Windows and Outlook likewise was seen as a benefit.

Adding Skype to Xbox also will be touted as an advantage. Still, many would argue the strategic value is tough to discern.
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