DETROIT -- Lead-generator Autobytel Inc., which hasn't posted a profit since 2004, narrowed its third-quarter net loss by 86 percent but still posted its biggest deficit of the year.
Autobytel posted a $799,000 third-quarter loss yesterday, down from the $5.6 million loss it sustained last year, but worse than its total first-half shortfall of $608,000.
Those losses include some income from discontinued operations. Last quarter's loss from continuing operations was $1.4 million, compared with $1.5 million in the second quarter and $5.8 million in the third-quarter of 2008.
The third quarter included the U.S. government's cash-for-clunkers program, which boosted August U.S. auto sales to their first year-over-year gain since October 2007. But the program had a mixed impact on Autobytel, which refers customers to dealers and automakers through Internet marketing, CEO Jeffrey Coats said in a statement. Leads per dealer increased with heightened customer interest, but overall dealer demand for Autobytel's help decreased, he said.
“Certain dealers felt they had sufficient volume of customers through increased online and showroom traffic,” Coats said.
Revenue totaled $13.4 million, down 23 percent from the previous year and about equal to the $13.9 million in sales from the second quarter. Revenue from auto lead referrals dropped by one-fourth from 2008.
The company, of Irvine, Calif., cut last quarter's operating expenses nearly in half from 2008 to $6.2 million. The previous third quarter had included $1.8 million in severance payments.
Autobytel, which has no debt, had $25.2 million in cash and cash equivalents at the end of September. It has burned through $2.2 million this year.
In September, the company received notice from the NASDAQ Stock Market that it had until March 15 to maintain a $1 closing price for at least two weeks or face delisting.
Autobytel's stock has closed below $1 daily since Oct. 1, with its lowest closing at 23 cents on March 19. It has traded around or below $5 for the majority of its publicly offered life, after peaking at $41.87 on March 31, 1999, three trading days after its initial public offering. It last traded above $3 per share in December 2007.
Since it went public, the company has posted an annual net profit only twice, in 2003 and 2004, according to Bloomberg data.
Autobytel stock closed today at 70 cents, up 4 cents, or 6 percent, from yesterday's close.