updated 1/24/2007 5:00:27 PM ET 2007-01-24T22:00:27

EBay Inc. reported Wednesday that fourth-quarter profit increased 24 percent from the same period last year, trouncing Wall Street estimates and prompting executives to raise estimates for the current quarter.

Thanks to scorching holiday sales — particularly in eBay’s traditional strongholds of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany — the San Jose-based online auction company earned $349 million, or 25 cents per share, for the three months ended Dec. 31. It earned $279 million, or 20 cents per share in the year-ago period.

EBay shares increased $1.38, or nearly 5 percent, to close Wednesday at $30 on the Nasdaq Stock Market before the earnings report was released. It jumped $33.05, up an additional 10.2 percent, in after-market trading.

“It was a very strong quarter capping a very strong year,” eBay President and Chief Executive Meg Whitman said in a brief phone interview with The Associated Press when the results were released.

Fourth-quarter revenue totaled $1.72 billion, up 29 percent from $1.33 billion in the year-ago period.

Excluding charges unrelated to ongoing operations, eBay earned $431 million, or 31 cents per share, up nearly 27 percent from the same quarter last year, when eBay earned $340 million, or 24 cents per share.

On that basis, which does not comply with generally accepted accounting principles, eBay was expected to earn $402 million, or 28 cents per share, on sales of $1.67 billion, according to analysts polled by Thomson Financial.

During the holiday quarter, more than 81 million active eBay users exchanged $14.4 billion in goods, ranging from pricey real estate and computer servers to Pez dispensers and clothing.

Whitman said the company raised first-quarter 2007 sales guidance to a range of $1.67 billion to $1.72 billion. Excluding special items, eBay expects earnings per share to be in the range of 28 cents to 30 cents per share.

In 2006, eBay earned $1.13 billion, or 79 cents per share, up 4 percent from $1.08 billion, or 78 cents per share, in 2005. Excluding stock-based compensation costs and other expenses, eBay in 2006 earned $1.49 billion, or $1.05 per share, up nearly 24 percent from $1.2 billion, or 86 cents per share, a year earlier.

Annual revenue was $5.97 billion, up 31 percent from $4.55 billion in 2005. That’s higher than the $5.96 billion from the most optimistic analysts polled by Thomson Financial. Overall, analysts expected eBay to earn $1.46 billion, or $1.02 per share, on sales of $5.91 billion.

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