U.S. Markets open in 2 hrs 6 mins

Edited Transcript of CSGP earnings conference call or presentation 26-Feb-19 10:00pm GMT

Q4 2018 CoStar Group Inc Earnings Call

WASHINGTON Mar 1, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of CoStar Group Inc earnings conference call or presentation Tuesday, February 26, 2019 at 10:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

================================================================================

Corporate Participants

================================================================================

* Andrew C. Florance

CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director

* Richard Simonelli

CoStar Group, Inc. - VP of IR & Public Relations

* Scott T. Wheeler

CoStar Group, Inc. - CFO

================================================================================

Conference Call Participants

================================================================================

* Brett Richard Huff

Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD

* David Emerson Ridley-Lane

BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - VP

* Keen Fai Tong

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst

* Mayank Tandon

Needham & Company, LLC, Research Division - Senior Analyst

* Oscar D. Turner

SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - Associate

* Peter Corwin Christiansen

Citigroup Inc, Research Division - VP and Analyst

* Scott Christian Buck

B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst

* Stephen Hardy Sheldon

William Blair & Company L.L.C., Research Division - Analyst

* Sterling Auty

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst

* William Arthur Warmington

Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Equity Analyst

================================================================================

Presentation

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [1]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Fourth Quarter and 2018 Earnings Call. (Operator Instructions)

As a reminder, the conference is being recorded. And I'll now turn the meeting over to our host, Rich Simonelli. Please go ahead.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Richard Simonelli, CoStar Group, Inc. - VP of IR & Public Relations [2]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thank you, operator, and welcome to CoStar Group's Fourth Quarter and Year-End 2018 Conference Call.

Before I turn the call over to Andy Florance, CoStar's CEO and Founder; and Scott Wheeler, our CFO, I have some very interesting and important items for you. Certain portions of our discussion today may contain forward-looking statements, which involve many risks and uncertainties that can cause actual results to differ materially from such statements. Important factors that can cause actual results to differ include, but are not limited to, those stated in our press release today, on February 26, for our fourth quarter and year-end earnings as well as the company's outlook and in CoStar's filings with the SEC, including our most recent annual report on Form 10-K and our subsequent quarterly reports on Form 10-Q under the heading Risk Factors. All forward-looking statements are based on information available to CoStar at the time of this call. CoStar assumes no obligation to update these statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

Reconciliation to the most directly comparable GAAP measure to the non-GAAP financial measures discussed on this call, including, but not limited to, non-GAAP net income, EBITDA, adjusted EBITDA and forward-looking GAAP guidance are shown in detail in our press release issued today, along with definitions for those terms. The press release is available on the Press Room section of our website located at costargroup.com.

As a reminder, today's conference call is being broadcast live and in color on our website, where you can also find CoStar's Investor Relations page. Please refer to our press release on how to access the replay. Remember, one question. So make it a good one. And I'll now turn the call over to Andy. Andy?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [3]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rich, that was authentic and moving. Thank you.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Richard Simonelli, CoStar Group, Inc. - VP of IR & Public Relations [4]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

You're welcome.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [5]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thank you all for joining us for CoStar Group's Fourth Quarter 2018 and Year-End Earnings Call.

The first number I want to focus on is our adjusted EBITDA margin in the fourth quarter, which was 44%. By achieving that strong margin, we have successfully accomplished an important financial goal. 5 years ago, in 2014, we set 2 key long-range financial goals for 2018. One was to achieve $1 billion in annual revenue, and the second was to reach 40% adjusted EBITDA margin for the fourth quarter of 2018. Today, 5 years later, with $1.2 billion in revenue for the full year 2018 and a 44% adjusted EBITDA margin in the fourth quarter, our team is pleased to have solidly delivered on both of those goals.

Delivering this sort of consistent growth is on target with our long-range record of good growth. Since 2011, we have achieved a 25% compound annual revenue growth rate, which is in line with our 20-year compound annual growth rate of 25%.

For the full year 2018, our adjusted EBITDA margin was 35%, over 600 basis points of improvement over 2017. EBITDA in 2018 was $351 million, an increase of 48% compared to $237 million for 2017. Net income was $238 million in 2018 compared to $123 million in 2017, a 94% increase.

The past 5 years have proven that we can grow the top line, expand margins and still make significant growth investments into the business. Some of those recent investments include the Richmond research center, expanding and marketing the Apartments.com network, growing our sales team, integrating the CoStar and LoopNet databases and expanding our Canadian and European businesses. Our most significant growing investments are products in software development. Those investments have allowed us to build powerful, profitable businesses with strong leadership positions with CoStar Suite, the Apartments network, CoStar Real Estate Manager, LoopNet and many others. Because of our exceptional technology, deep understanding of real estate and the value of our connected commercial real estate communities, we have created transformative value for our clients. We are now attracting 42 million people to our websites monthly and have earned the business of 150,000 CoStar subscribers. This has enabled us to balance investing back into our business while still significantly expanding our margins.

CoStar Group holds a leadership position in the exciting transformation of a multitrillion-dollar real estate industry, moving from offline to online.

We have positioned the company well for the enormous long-term opportunity that lies ahead of us by building an exceptionally strong balance sheet. We have $1.1 billion in cash, no debt and $351 million of growing EBITDA to leverage. CoStar Group has acquired dozens of companies and expects to continue acquiring companies that will bring value to our shareholders.

CoStar Suite revenue grew 18% in 2018 over 2017. Commercial property and land, which includes loopnet.com as well as our land and business sites, grew 16% year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2018. For the full year of 2018, multifamily revenue grew 45% versus 2017 as our multifamily revenue increased to $406 million.

CoStar Real Estate Manager grew an astounding 124% year-over-year and is already off to a strong start this year. That's right, 124%. We now have more than $1 billion of visible, high-margin, reoccurring or subscription revenue. Company-wide net new bookings of $50 million in the fourth quarter of 2018 were the best we've ever achieved. That is an increase of 15% year-over-year and 26% over the third quarter of 2018. Remember that the fourth quarter 2017 was an exceptional quarter for us as one of our long-term competitors filed bankruptcy.

For the full year of 2018, we turned in another top performance with $169 million in net new bookings. In a sense, even that number is understated because it does not include all the work our sales team did in signing tens of millions of dollars of ForRent revenue into Apartments.com contracts.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, we signed 2 large brokerage firms to new multiyear contracts. The contract we signed with CBRE was our first global contract. CBRE has been a great long-time customer of CoStar, and their users are spending more time in our products than ever before. In 2018, CBRE users doubled their time spent working in CoStar over 2016. This is a testament to the growing utility of our products to top industry players.

Marcus & Millichap also signed a multiyear contract renewal with us, and they pointed directly to improvements made in research, particularly, our Tenant data as a reason for going forward with us and expanding the volume of services they buy from us. They're also renewing and growing Canadian contracts with us.

In 2018, our CoStar field sales force began focusing on selling LoopNet in addition to CoStar. We did this because it makes good sense, and we feel that our customers prefer one point of contact. As a result, net new year-over-year bookings for loopnet.com increased by 74%. With 2 products to sell, the sales force is selling a bit less CoStar but selling much more of the combined services. Clearly, this is a good trade-off.

Our Apartments.com sales force is doing a great job. The fourth quarter of 2018 was our best sales quarter ever for Apartments.com. Our sales force has essentially completed converting ForRent customers to Apartments.com customers. So they now have more time available to focus on signing new business. Hitting a record Apartments.com sales quarter in the fourth quarter is a remarkable achievement, given the fact that, historically, apartment Internet listing services suffered from sharp seasonality and historically would contract in the fourth quarter. So setting records in the fourth quarter is great.

Our Apartments.com sales force knows the power of client service and how it leads to more sales. In 2018, they conducted 309,000 client meetings, and most of our reps averaged nearly 7 meetings per day. Some are averaging almost 10 client meetings a day. An independent group within CoStar follows up many of these meetings by calling and asking the client on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely they are to recommend Apartments.com to a friend. On average, our clients give us a 9.64. One of our best reps, Nicole Gagliardi, across 1,000 meetings scored an outstanding 9.94, an A++. I believe this sales team is the best in the industry, and I'm looking forward to another excellent year with them.

In 2018, according to comScore, the Apartments.com network had 0.5 billion visits for the full year, up 33% over 2017. In 1 month, according to Google Analytics, we saw 57 million visits across the Apartments.com network. We averaged 17-point million unique visitors per month over the course of the year, according to comScore, which is an increase of 35% compared to 2017. This is by far the most in the industry as we continue to pull away from RentPath, which only had 208 million visits in 2018 and averaged less than 8.8 million unique visitors per month.

Even more impressive, for the full year of 2018, Apartments.com leads were up 43%. With almost 300 million more visits than RentPath and great lead flow, we believe the obvious choice for an advertiser has to be Apartments.com. In 2018, 4,600 properties advertising with RentPath started advertising with Apartments.com. We estimate that there are only 6,000 to 8,000 that still advertise on RentPath and do not yet advertise on Apartments.com. And we are focused on capturing that business.

In 2018, RentPath got a competitive rest or a little competitive holiday while we focused on the ForRent conversion. But in 2019, we'll dramatically increase the competitive intensity. We believe that RentPath may have a ticking time bomb of a pricing problem. We believe that similar apartment properties in the same city are paying wildly different prices for essentially the same advertising levels. This may have happened because they used to have much better share of traffic, and RentPath may be relying on long-term clients to keep paying yesterday's higher prices that might have been justified years ago when their traffic was good. But now these prices may not make any sense. How will long-term clients react if they find out that new clients are paying a fraction of the price for the same product? It used to make sense to pay $3 a minute to use a 10-pound mobile bag phone, and you were cool. Today, a cellular provider would not be able to sustain that $3-a-minute pricing for long in a highly competitive market.

We now have over 50,000 properties advertised on our network, up from 18,000 when we purchased Apartments.com in 2014. In just 10 months, we have successfully integrated ForRent, the largest acquisition we've ever made. We are increasing our 2019 Apartments marketing budget by 11% year-over-year in an effort to gain more share. We expect to launch our new bigger 2019 marketing campaign shortly. The campaign will once again feature Jeff Goldblum as Brad Bellflower. The 2019 campaign is called Enter the [Apartminternet].

There will be a lot of futuristic technology and special effects that will make the ads fun and memorable. We hired director, Taika Waititi, famous for directing the recent blockbuster smash hit, Thor: Ragnarok, to direct our spot so that the production value and quality will be truly first-class. We just wrapped up filming these new TV spots. In the series, we emphasize the vast array of alternative futures the renter can potentially have by choosing various apartment alternatives.

The aggressive plan calls for over 8,000 television ads, 6 billion digital impressions, 300 million streaming impressions to reach 95% of renters. We expect that the net impact of this investment will be well over 600 million renter visits in 2019 to the Apartments.com network.

According to company estimates, there are 14 million apartment units in larger apartment buildings with 100 units or more. That represents only 31% of the 45 million rental units in the United States. Despite the fact that it represents only 31% of the market, the overwhelming majority of Apartments.com's revenues comes from this upper 31% of the market. 84% of the 540,000 apartment buildings in the U.S. are smaller and have 4 units to 100 units. In addition, there are 17 million other units altogether that are in condos, townhouses or properties with less than 4 units. These smaller properties are owned by what we call independent owners or the IO market. The IO market does not have the scale and resources of larger players like Greystar, AvalonBay, Pinnacle and other large property managers. We believe that without the benefits of scale, independent owners spend more time and money leasing each unit. We further believe that there is far more absolute revenue potential in the independent owner and small apartment building market than there is in the upper end or institutional market. We believe we've done a better job than any other online company at monetizing the upper end of the market. Now in 2019, monetizing the other 69% of the United States rental housing market will become our top priority.

We have been and expect to continue to invest very aggressively in building out the software platforms and products that we believe will enable us to provide compelling online rental solutions that appeal to both renters and independent owners. We want to take many of the traditionally offline or disparate functions required to lease an apartment and moved them into one seamless online easy-to-use solution. It's an exciting project to work on, and we're motivated by the potential to have a very positive impact on tens of millions of renters and independent owners. Part of that effort includes our November purchase of Cozy Services. They are a leader in the online rental property market and have nearly 60,000 landlords using their services. There are approximately 150,000 renters making lease payments through Cozy, totaling $1.7 billion in 2018. We believe that Cozy provides a best-in-class solution for one of the key components of the rental process, so we're integrating Cozy into the Apartments.com full rental cycle.

We will control the costs associated with selling solutions to a much larger audience at lower price points by relying on e-commerce sales to monetize the higher-volume independent owner market rather than using our field sales force. It's our goal that this new solution will form the foundation of our 2020 marketing campaign. We plan to share more details about our new products as we get closer to launching them.

2019 will be the first full year that LoopNet's position is a pure online marketplace like Apartments.com rather than a hybrid information solution and marketing platform. LoopNet has become a vital utility for tens of thousands of commercial real estate professionals seeking to market their properties to the millions of tenants and investors looking for commercial real estate online. LoopNet is the most heavily trafficked commercial real estate marketplace, with approximately 5 million unique visitors in a month. LoopNet generates $127 million of annual revenue on a very high margin. While we've more than tripled LoopNet's marketing revenue since CoStar acquired the company in 2012, we believe that we can further innovate and evolve the LoopNet solution and more than triple the revenue again with a focused effort and site relaunch.

Early in LoopNet's evolution, it was best suited to marketing smaller properties, often for-sale properties in suburban areas or tertiary cities. The economics on these smaller properties are a fraction of the economics involved in large office property leasing or industrial. While CoStar Group has years of experience marketing tens of thousands of major properties for -- office properties for lease, LoopNet was not originally optimized for marketing and leasing prestigious, brand-conscious office buildings.

In 2019, we are investing aggressively to redevelop and relaunch the next generation of LoopNet so that it better meets the needs of a much broader cross-section of the commercial real estate industry. This effort is very similar to the effort we successfully made to relaunch and reposition the Apartments.com site after we acquired it from Classified Ventures in 2014.

This is a comprehensive project, engaging much more than just our software development teams. Similar to the Apartments.com launch, we expect this will engage more than half our company. We're very excited about the opportunity to exploit the potential of a next-generation online marketing platform for commercial real estate.

2018 ended with commercial vacancies near all-time lows, prices and rents at all-time highs and leasing and transaction volume setting new records for the year. The ongoing health of commercial real estate is the result of solid economic growth in 2018, which, although slowing in the fourth quarter, accelerated for the year as fiscal stimulus kicked in. Almost 2.7 million jobs were created last year, and the unemployment rate is hovering at/or below 4%. All of that is great for commercial real estate.

The industrial market continues to lead all property types in terms of rent growth, price appreciation, take-up and new supply. The industrial sector's outperformance results from the ongoing shift to online buying, which has produced strong demand for infill and regional bulk distribution centers across all markets. E-commerce has also affected the traditional retail sector. Retail rents have trailed the other property types, and developers have delivered little new space. However, well-located retail assets continue to show strong performance, and demand for quality space, matched with very little new construction, has kept overall retail vacancies at historic lows.

In the office sector, vacancies fell into the single digits last year for the first time since the early 2000s, the result of healthy absorption and limited new supply. Rent growth at the national level stayed within a narrow band of around 2% over last 8 quarters, but has weakened in some coastal markets, which are facing higher levels of supply. Many secondary markets, on the other hand, have enjoyed stronger rent growth as new construction still remains low.

For the multifamily sector, absorption reached a cyclical high as a strong labor market and rising mortgage rates resulted in high demand for rental units. Apartment rent growth accelerated, exceeding 3% for the first time since 2015. And transaction volume and pricing continue to set new records.

In summary, 2018 was another remarkable year in an unprecedented streak for commercial real estate. We see no reason that the slow and steady status quo that has defined this cycle won't continue for the foreseeable future. That said, the prospect of rising interest rates and narrowing spreads appear to have brought an end to nearly a decade of cap rate compression, but cap rates remain very low. Still, construction remains limited, leasing remains healthy across all property types and rising mortgage rates could safeguard apartment demand.

We're proud to have delivered on the financial goals we set for CoStar back in 2014. We are now coming off our best year ever, and we're moving into 2019 in a strong commercial real estate market, with great products, great clients, great people, great research and a phenomenal sales steam. We believe that 2019 will be another great year for CoStar Group and our clients.

We told you that upon completing our last 5-year financial goal, we would set a new goal for 2023. That goal will be to exit 2023 at a $3 billion revenue run rate, with an adjusted EBITDA margin of 40% or more for the full year. While we anticipate acquisitions will contribute, we believe that most of our growth will be organic.

At this point, I'm going to turn the call over to the accomplished mountaineer and our CFO, Scott Wheeler.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott T. Wheeler, CoStar Group, Inc. - CFO [6]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thank you, Andy. It's a great introduction. Feeling very accomplished today.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [7]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Soaring to new heights.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott T. Wheeler, CoStar Group, Inc. - CFO [8]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Here, let me just raise my chair a little. I feel better up here. Great. Yes, 2018. What a great year we had for CoStar. Very strong growth. We acquired 3 businesses, we invested for our future, and we expanded our margin over 600 basis points.

On top of that, I, for one, am happy we can put these old tired long-term goals behind us and move on to multibillion land next.

All right. Let me start with some insights on our revenue results, which, in the full of 2018, increased 23% over 2017, while our growth rate in the fourth quarter of 2018 was 24% versus the prior year.

Looking at our revenue performance by services. CoStar Suite revenue growth was 18% for the full year 2018 as expected and 16% in the fourth quarter of 2018, coming in slightly above our 15% guidance range. CoStar Suite sales were very good in the fourth quarter as we continued strong conversion of our LoopNet users to CoStar, and we completed the long-term contract renewals with both CBRE and Marcus & Millichap that Andy mentioned.

As we head into 2019, we expect the CoStar Suite growth rates to moderate sequentially as they did in the fourth quarter of 2018 and settle in, in the range of 11% to 13% for the year.

There are a couple of factors converging here to note. First, we fully lapped the very high revenue growth quarters that followed the LoopNet integration and the Xceligent bankruptcy. Second, we have a sales substitution effect here as our CoStar sales force is focused on selling more LoopNet to accelerate the growth of that marketplace. In total, the team is delivering more combined sales, in fact, 20% more in 2018 than in 2017. So we like this increased productivity, and we'll see some shifting effect between CoStar to LoopNet.

Revenue growth in Information Services was 11% in the fourth quarter of 2018, so our first quarter of positive growth in over 2 years when we stopped actively selling the LoopNet information products. Back then, LoopNet information was over 50% of the revenue in Information Services. All that revenue is effectively gone, and CoStar Real Estate Manager and CoStar Risk Analytics have made up the gap. CoStar Real Estate Manager revenue continued its outstanding growth, increasing 165% in the fourth quarter of 2018 versus the fourth quarter of 2017. We expect total revenue from Information Services to increase at a rate of 11% to 13% on a year-over-year basis throughout 2019. It's great to finally put behind us that negative growth rate.

We had a very strong quarter in the fourth quarter in multifamily as revenue increased 45% year-over-year, including the impact for the ForRent acquisition. For the full year 2018, the average number of properties that advertised on our network increased approximately 25%, while the average revenue per property improved 20%.

Looking forward, we expect multifamily revenue growth of approximately 20% for the full year of 2019. We expect growth of approximately 30% in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the first quarter of 2018 as we lap the late February acquisition date of ForRent. Growth rates in the second and third quarters should be in the mid-teens due to the negative effect of certain duplicative and discontinued revenues from ForRent that was in our 2018 results that won't be in our 2019 results. The growth rate exiting 2019 is expected to be in line with the 20% full year outlook for multifamily.

Finally, in commercial property and land, revenue grew 17% year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2018. The strong growth reflects the increased sales of LoopNet marketing products by our national CoStar field sales force. Our LoopNet tiered advertising products performed exceptionally well, growing approximately 50% for the year. For 2019, we expect revenue growth in commercial property and land in the 18% to 20% range.

Our gross margin was 77% for the full year 2018, and it came in at 78% in the fourth quarter of 2018, up 200 basis points from the third quarter of 2018 and 130 basis points from the fourth quarter of 2017. We are certainly realizing the benefits of strong operating leverage in our research operations, which we expect to continue as our Listing Manager tools achieve greater adoption throughout 2019. We expect overall gross margins of 78% for 2019, with margins improving throughout the year to between 79% to 80% by the end of 2019.

Fourth quarter adjusted EBITDA of $139 million was approximately $12 million above the midpoint of our guidance range due to revenue outperformance of approximately $6 million and lower expenses, primarily personnel-related.

I know we said it already, but it really never gets old. Our adjusted EBITDA margin for the fourth quarter came in at 44%, above our 41% margin guidance and that long-term goal of 40%.

Net income for the full year of 2018 was $238 million, 94% ahead of the prior year, reflecting tremendous operating profit growth as well as the R&D tax credits we achieved in the second quarter of 2018. Net income was $9 million ahead of the net income expected in our guidance forecast for the fourth quarter.

Non-GAAP net income for the full year of 2018 was $302 million and includes adjustments for stock-based compensation and acquisition-related expenses. This represents growth of 96% compared to 2017.

Now let's take a look at some performance metrics for the quarter. At the end of the year, our sales force totaled 741 people, a slight increase from the 733 salespeople we reported at the end of the third quarter of 2018. We anticipate a modest increase in the size of our sales force in 2019, primarily focused on CoStar and LoopNet.

The renewal rate on annual contracts for the fourth quarter was broadly in line with the rate achieved in the third quarter of 2018 at 90%, which was down slightly from the 91% we achieved in the fourth quarter of 2017. The renewal rate for customers who have been subscribers for 5 years or longer was 96%, consistent with the third quarter of 2018 and down slightly from the 97% in the first quarter of 2017.

Subscription revenue on annual contracts accounts for 80.9% of our revenue in the quarter, up from 79.7% this time last year.

We're now 1 full year past the date we acquired ForRent and we've completed the integration. When we announced the deal, we expected to add revenue of approximately $75 million to $85 million, with adjusted EBITDA margins expected to be in the range of 45% to 55%. I'm happy to say we achieved our financial objectives after only 10 months. These results are highly accretive, as you can tell by our profit results, and indicate a post-synergy acquisition price of less than 9x EBITDA. Certainly not a bad day's work.

So now we'll discuss our outlook for the full year and the first quarter of 2019. We expect revenue in the range of $1.37 billion to $1.38 billion for the full year of 2019. This implies an annual growth rate of 15% to 16% over 2018. We expect revenue for the first quarter of 2019 in the range of $325 million to $329 million. This represents approximately 19% to 20% growth compared to the first quarter of last year. As I noted earlier, we booked approximately 1 month of ForRent revenue in the first quarter of 2018, which is why our consolidated growth for the first quarter of 2019 is stepping down from 24% growth rate in the fourth quarter of 2018. As we pass the anniversary of the ForRent acquisition, we expect revenue growth in the range of 14% to 15% for the remaining quarters of 2019.

We'll focus on a number of important growth investments in 2019, while, at the same time, growing our profit margins. Our top investments for 2019 include the independent owner software platform and products that Andy talked about, along with the development and launch of the next generation of LoopNet. In addition, we're developing product capabilities within CoStar that we believe will take advantage of significant growth opportunities with both owners of commercial properties and lenders. We'll also continue to build our network of marketplace businesses, including our international operations in Europe and Canada. As a result, we expect total operating costs to increase between 9% and 11% against revenue growth of 14% to 15% in 2019.

As in prior years, our advertising spend is expected to be more heavily weighted in the first half of the year, with the second quarter expected to be our largest marketing quarter. As a result, we expect the second quarter to be the low point for adjusted EBITDA margins for the year as was the case in 2017 and 2018.

We expect adjusted EBITDA in the range of $495 million to $505 million, that's $0.5 billion, for the full year of 2019, which represents 20% growth at the midpoint compared to 2018. We expect adjusted EBITDA margin for the year of approximately 36% at the midpoint of our guidance range. For the first quarter, we expect adjusted EBITDA in the range of $120 million to $124 million, up 45% compared to the first quarter of 2018. We expect 2019 non-GAAP net income per diluted share in the range of $9.80 to $10 based on 36.6 million shares. For the first quarter, we expect non-GAAP net income per diluted share in the range of $2.38 to $2.47 based on 36.5 million shares. These ranges include a revised non-GAAP tax rate of 25%.

Overall, I believe we're well positioned in 2019 to deliver strong growth and margin expansion, while, at the same time, making significant investments for the future. I'm excited about our long-term goals of $3 billion in run rate revenue and 40%-plus of adjusted EBITDA margins in 5 years.

Now with regards to our margin improvement, keep in mind, we have a tendency to avoid doing things in a straight line. Accordingly, our margin trajectory may vary considerably from year-to-year. I sound like Rich giving a disclaimer on this one. It is important that when we have attractive investment opportunities, we allow the flexibility in our expectations to pursue those opportunities vigorously.

All right. That's enough of me talking. Let's open up the call for questions.

================================================================================

Questions and Answers

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [1]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Operator Instructions) Our first question, from the line of Peter Christiansen with Citi.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Peter Corwin Christiansen, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - VP and Analyst [2]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andy, there's been some deal activity in Europe recently. And I don't want to point to one deal specifically, but then -- and there's also some start-up activity in Asia, a similar model as CoStar, which, I guess, is a testament to your financial model. But do things like this, and I'm not pointing to one deal specifically, change the calculus in terms of when and how CoStar is thinking about making international more of an investment priority?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [3]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Well, thanks, Peter. We are putting a significant amount of effort into our international operations. You'll see that when you look at our outlook, we have significant capital going into our European and Canadian operations. We think that some of the deals, I believe you're referencing, are interesting, but they're not direct parallels to what we're doing, so they don't really shift the competitive picture in any which way. And we're watching that, and if something came up that was really interesting, we would participate in that. But we're going to continue to be aggressive but measured in our international operations. But, to wit, I'll be over there next week, so we're watching it and continuing to build the operations there. We are -- I think, at this point, we have 8 of the top 10 firms in Canada as clients now, and I think we are 9 or 10 of the top 10 in the United Kingdom. So we're doing well, and Germany is continuing to do well. France and Spain, continue to build there. So we're watching it, but not dramatically shifting.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [4]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And we have a question from Andrew Jeffrey with SunTrust.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Oscar D. Turner, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - Associate [5]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is Oscar Turner on for Andrew. My question is on the incremental investments. I was wondering if you can quantify the incremental investment towards a couple of the top initiatives you talked about. And then how should we think about the incremental revenue growth that those investments can drive and the timing of a growth acceleration in LoopNet and Apartments?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott T. Wheeler, CoStar Group, Inc. - CFO [6]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yes, let me cover a bit on the investment side, and then we can talk a little bit on the outlook front. The bigger ones we're going to be focused on this year, really, the marketplace buildouts, both the LoopNet in the U.S. and then the marketplace in the U.K., which is on the backbone of our Realla business. We think we'll probably have between $20 million, $25 million of investment that will go in to building those platforms out, which includes marketing and other capabilities. Then we have the independent owners investment that Andy mentioned, which we already have a decent amount of investment going in currently and think we'll ramp that up by another $10 million or so next year. And then the buildout of the CoStar platform with owners, lenders, promoting some of the Listing Manager work we're doing in software with -- along with some more marketing in CoStar, we think there's probably another $10 million to $15 million of costs in investments there. When you look at our cost growth, we figured that a little bit less than half of our cost growth really has to do with investments we made in 2018 that annualized in 2019 or labor increases, inflation, those types of things. So a little less of the cost growth is for year-over-year and normal business operations, and the rest really is in going into new investments that really benefit future years and future revenue growth. I don't know, Andy, if you want to talk about the revenue outlook, investments.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [7]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I think that the revenue return on LoopNet is reasonably a short cycle. There will be a pretty aggressive focus on that product area of investment, that product area over '19 and '20. But we think we'll see results coming from that in the back half of '19 and '20 and then ongoing. And then with the IO market, that's probably the -- the more meaningful results there are probably in 2020. And then for the increase in the Apartments.com budget, we think that while we are taking share and leading the market, we want to keep the pressure up and accelerate keeping share to widen the moat and increase the lead. So it's a range of different outlooks on these, and we feel pretty solid about all of them.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [8]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Our next question, from the line of George Tong with Goldman Sachs.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Keen Fai Tong, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [9]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

You've outlined goals of reaching $3 billion in run rate revenues by the end of 2023, which implies at least mid-teens annual revenue growth. Can you discuss how much pricing will contribute to these growth rates given your previously discussed plans to eliminate discounting in CoStar Suite and potentially increase rate cards in the multifamily segment?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [10]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sure. Don't believe the majority, the substantial majority of this will be price increases. We think that across Europe and Canada and the United States, there are a lot of new revenue opportunities, new customers, additional modules we purchased, increased purchasing. So we think a lot of this is share gain and share of wallet. The pricing increases on places like LoopNet, you're shifting your priority from selling a basic ad to a broker for $50, $60, to selling a -- something that looks more like an Apartments.com ad, with really impactful presentation, sort of the top, with more features. And you're selling it to an owner with a lot of economics at stake, and office can be different properties in that mix. And the new price could go from $60 up to $6,000 a month. So there is sort of shifting the budget, shifting the priority, you're shifting the target audience, shifting the priority. We don't anticipate getting to $3 billion in revenue by simply increasing the same customer's price for the same product.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [11]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And we have a question from David Ridley-Lane with Bank of America.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

David Emerson Ridley-Lane, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - VP [12]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Can you talk a little bit about the details of the LoopNet site relaunch and whether or not you considered launching a separate brand to differentiate between the upmarket and the downmarket there?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [13]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

That's a good question. And it will be a little challenging to go into too much detail on it. We have thought about that, but we don't think we need to do that. We actually are going to initially go to market really focusing on the term -- the branding of CoStar marketing network because if you own a, say, an executive new office building in Washington, D.C., we're actually providing our customers with a whole range of marketing solutions. We enable that owner to reach the professional community by carrying these ads into the CoStar network. We're carrying them into CityFeet, into Showcase, into CoStar. We also power websites through LoopLink. We also have e-mail marketing campaigns through CDX direct, our direct e-mail marketing product. And then we've got tactical and analytical support, where we can produce analysis on the amount of demand and supply for the particular kind of products you're producing and where you may want to position the product and pricing, or how you may want to subdivide it, or what terms you may want to consider. And then we're also uniquely providing the biggest end-user audience through LoopNet. So we can -- and there's 2 or 3 other items. But as we put all this together, we're going to simplify it into a network sale the way we simplify Apartments.com into a network sale. And LoopNet is just one component of this whole range of very valuable marketing solutions for getting a property leased at the best price, in the shortest time frame, you know, huge economics. So -- and then we think that over time, as we shift the way LoopNet looks and feels and it goes -- it becomes much more polished, has more breadth of data, has a lot of content articles that demystify some of the leasing process and investing process, as we shift it from industry jargon to more plain English, as we add in a lot more sort of exciting shopping characteristic stuff, like where are the best places to eat lunch at this particular property, what's your commute going to look like, all that kind of stuff, we think the LoopNet brand itself will be a good brand to carry because it's already super well-known and what we're doing is just moving it more upmarket and targeting a slightly different audience while continuing to target the original audience. So we think we're pretty happy with the CoStar marketing network at this point.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [14]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And our next question, from the line of Brett Huff with Stephens.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Brett Richard Huff, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD [15]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

My question is on the Suite mix in sales. I think one consequence of having Suite salespeople also sell LoopNet was a little bit of extra juice for LoopNet and a little bit less growth in sales for Suite. We get some questions sometimes about penetration rates of Suite. And are we getting to a point where those are starting to trickle off? Can you illuminate kind of how do we know that the mix of sales is the result of just kind of effort levels being different versus maybe reaching the harder-to-reach TAM areas of that market?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [16]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Well, when you ask, has CoStar reached a saturation point, all I can say is, "Ha." So absolutely not. There are so many different ways that the CoStar product is growing and adding more value. Like in preparing for this earnings call last night, I was just curious about some of those apartment stats and what the mix of units are different. And I was -- and I'm like, "Well, we'll go into CoStar and pull some of this data, according to company estimates." And man, what a phenomenal product. The ability to like actually get really good data on the mix of apartment units in different-sized communities that didn't exist in the product a couple years ago, it's invaluable. I can't imagine someone investing in the apartment sector without that information. I've been at this, as we mentioned, I guess, since we went public. We're approximately 25% compound annual growth rate. At the point we went public, there was a lot of discussion about the fact that CoStar was saturated. And 5 years before that, there was discussion around CoStar is saturated. I spent my entire career hearing about CoStar is saturated pretty much from the, literally, the first or second year we launched CoStar. In my view, not a chance. Not even a chance. Unfortunately, if I work another 20 years like my dad, I will not outlive the potential to saturate the CoStar market. But it's just one man's wishy-washy opinion. But solidly, no.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [17]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Our next question is from the line of Mayank Tandon with Needham & Company.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mayank Tandon, Needham & Company, LLC, Research Division - Senior Analyst [18]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andy or Scott, I just wanted to kind of dig in a little bit on the EBITDA trajectory for 2023. Maybe, Scott, you said it won't be linear, which was obviously to be expected. But if you could just talk about the various levers that get you to that 40% target. And maybe you could talk about it by segment in terms of where you think the profitability will come from across the 3 different business lines.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott T. Wheeler, CoStar Group, Inc. - CFO [19]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yes. So the margin accretion, clearly, you can throttle it pretty rapidly, as we just showed this last year, where we added 600 basis points. And then the year, for example, in 2017, when we did the research investments, we slowed it back down and had modest margin growth. It's not inconceivable to see 100 to 200 basis points margin growth a year pretty simply and still have room like we have in this plan for 2019 to make significant investments for future growth. So that's all pretty stable from an organic perspective, and I can see us getting -- if nothing else changes and you keep driving this organic growth, you certainly can get over that 40% margin, and the business can capably do that in the 5 years. The real wildcard in some of this is the amount of acquisition we're going to be doing, the margin profiles of acquisitions that we buy, how that dilutes over time. And so you heard us be a little bit cautious in saying, okay, it's 40%-plus, and that really depends on what happens with the acquisition path, what those look like, and the timing of them and then how long that it takes to move the margins of the businesses we acquire up to our natural margins. When we look at the margins of the different product sectors that we're in, our marketplaces typically run the very highest margins that are 50%-plus margin profiles in the marketplaces. And then now with CoStar being in that historically 30% to 40% range, depending on the investments we make, you're going to see both sides of the business grow pretty substantially. I think you'll see Apartments, obviously, will outpace CoStar in a couple of years, given our current growth trajectories. And so I think you'll get that information and investment side of things coming in those 30%, 40% margins. And you'll see the marketplaces, that they will really continue to scale rapidly, moving up in those 40%, 50%-plus margins.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [20]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Furthermore, CoStar is not in any way saturated.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [21]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I will go to Bill Warmington with Wells Fargo.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

William Arthur Warmington, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Equity Analyst [22]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So I was a history major, so sometimes, I need a little help with my math. So I wanted to run some math by you, and you could tell me what I'm doing wrong. If you look at CoStar Suite and how that was up about 18% last year and if you look at -- if you kind of back out $15 million to $20 million of revenue from what you did this -- during the fourth quarter, that would seem -- which I know you don't specifically break out, but if you assume that and that would seem to imply something in the upper teens as the organic growth for the quarter. And then if you look at the net bookings coming in, about $50 million in Q4, versus a tough comp and you average that out into 2019, that would be about $200 million for the year, which versus $169 million would be up about 18%. And I guess what I'm getting at is that the leading indicators on the revenue side seem to be pointing to something closer to 18%, mid-teens going to the upper teens. I just wanted to run that math by you and see if that was the same math you guys were getting.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [23]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Billy, as I do that math, I start to think that Scott is somewhat conservative.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott T. Wheeler, CoStar Group, Inc. - CFO [24]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Could you ever -- you have a lot of selling to do this year, people. Let's aim it for ourselves.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

William Arthur Warmington, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Equity Analyst [25]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I've always got a -- the climbing he's been doing has been on a mountain of sand, right?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [26]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yes. Well, pick up the pace.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott T. Wheeler, CoStar Group, Inc. - CFO [27]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So if we had a better crystal ball on the quarterly sales numbers, Bill, I mean, you've watched us for so long. You see how they bounce up and down. $5 million swings quarter-to-quarter isn't unheard of, depending on what we're focused on, what part of the business we're generating, timing of renewals on contracts. So we always want to make sure that we don't get too far ahead of ourselves when we have a lot of plans for the year. And we'll continue to start the year that way. And hopefully, we'll get to the point where you can do our forecasting for us because your numbers will be a lot better than mine, I'm sure, as we keep going. But we did have a good quarter in the fourth quarter, but those bounce around between quarters, so we'll give ourselves time to sell out from under those in the first 2 quarters of this year.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [28]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And we have a question from Sterling Auty with JPMorgan.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sterling Auty, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst [29]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yes. I was just wondering if CoStar's opportunity is saturated.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [30]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Would you like to ask a different question?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sterling Auty, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst [31]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yes, actually, I would, I would. I wondered, actually, I think the comment in the call around the investment in sales headcount increases that they would be modest in 2019. So I'm curious where the focus of those added heads will go. And when you think about -- you talked about some of the other increases in budgets and investment. What's going to be the focus of it? I imagine multifamily. You talked about the marketing campaign. But just to wrap our heads around the structure of the investments in 2019.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott T. Wheeler, CoStar Group, Inc. - CFO [32]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yes, they run broadly in line with the numbers I gave a bit earlier on. I think someone asked in one of the other questions of how much we're spending in the different investments. And those are broadly people-driven. The marketing side will be concentrated fairly more on the Apartments and the LoopNet side. That's where the marketplaces sit. But we are adding a decent amount of resourcing into LoopNet, into technology. And then when we say modest for sales, I consider that's less than 10%, which is still -- could be 50 to 75 people, easily, for a sales force of that size. So our big area of research, we're finding that they're getting so much good productivity. That's one area where we don't need to add a lot of people as our Listing Manager products are freeing up resources that we then deploy onto owner, lender products and into helping support LoopNet. So it's not going to be in the research world. It's going to be mostly in technology and the resources going into building those investments in the international marketplaces and the independent owner space.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [33]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I have to say that if I were to look at my wish list from the beginning of 2018 on the sort of structural improvements we would like to complete on our sales force, we have -- I feel that we've accomplished a lot of those goals. We have 1 or 2 things to do in terms of go-to-market strategy on major accounts in CoStar. But in -- over the years, I don't think I've been in a place where I feel like our sales force is more stable than it is now. We've got a good Apartments.com sales team, led by Paige Forrest. He's a very experienced sales professional. We've got Max Linnington doing a fantastic job. What's happening now is really tweaking a strong group. And we're still probably a year out from anything that would be a major structural change, driven by a change in our acquisition or some others that can change. So we're in a pretty stable place.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [34]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

We have a question from Stephen Sheldon with William Blair.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Stephen Hardy Sheldon, William Blair & Company L.L.C., Research Division - Analyst [35]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So you talked about building out software platforms to integrate more in the rental leasing process and moving past leads with Apartments.com to more of the execution side, which appears to include Cozy. It makes a lot of sense, but I also wanted to ask about how this could impact your ability to extract data from the rental cycle. So beyond just alleviating any pain points, is this also about getting and integrating more and better data into your core database?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [36]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

That's one of the nice things that we love about the marketplaces. You -- the fact you're in the data business helps you to perform much more effectively in the marketplace and the fact that you then do well in the marketplace feeds your data business with some really exciting and valuable data. And it keeps your costs lower overall than if you were in just one or the other of the market. So we're able to afford to get data and content that we otherwise probably couldn't afford. We can provide consumers with information in marketplaces that we normally would never pay for if we didn't have an offsetting revenue stream in information. So yes, success in the IO market will generate a massive amount of realtime and accounting-grade data. It also gives you really interesting data where you can understand pricing in relationship to credit and risk. And you also will be -- it also could have the potential of generating new sorts of credit information that's very valuable to independent owners. And the independent owner data, the data that you generate from the independent owner side is equally valuable to the institutional players because the renters move back and forth between the different markets. And so it's all very interesting to both those groups. And certainly, a Greystar property, though it offers a lot, in a given market, it also -- its pricing is driven by what's happening in the IO market all around it in the neighborhood. There is high substitution between those 2 segments. So yes, if you're a data nerd, pretty exciting data coming out of the project on success.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [37]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And we have a question from Scott Buck with B. Riley FBR.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott Christian Buck, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [38]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I was curious, of the billion-plus you have in cash on the balance sheet, what do you actually need to run the day-to-day operations? And to the extent that you're carrying a fair amount above that, would that suggest an appetite for doing a larger transaction within the next couple of years?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [39]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So I'll let -- I'll take that and flip it around. I'll say that highly likely that we would do -- continue to do acquisitions as we've done successfully for 20 years. And the size of acquisitions we do, we continue to do smaller deals and mid-sized deals. But we keep gradually escalating the scale of some of the deals we do. So we believe it's quite likely that we'll use that buying power to do transactions in a reasonably short time frame. In terms of how much we...

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott T. Wheeler, CoStar Group, Inc. - CFO [40]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On the cash side, yes, we're going to get about $400 million of free cash coming out this next year. So we'll be adding to our cash piles unless we're doing larger acquisitions. So...

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [41]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

We need new carpet...

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott T. Wheeler, CoStar Group, Inc. - CFO [42]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So a new carpet at $399 million and $0.5 million we'll generate this year. There will be a little of that, but we had $300 million of free cash flow in 2018. It will go to $400 million next year. So we definitely don't need all that to run the business. We need to get out there and keep adding new capabilities and bigger ones too.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrew C. Florance, CoStar Group, Inc. - Co-Founder, CEO, President & Director [43]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Well, I think, with that, we are done with the Q&A period. And thank you all for joining us. And don't forget, CoStar is not saturated. I am excited about the many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of additional future clients we have ahead of us. Thank you for joining us.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operator [44]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ladies and gentlemen, this conference call will be made available for replay that begins at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time today, running for 1 month until March 26 at midnight Eastern. You can access the AT&T Teleconference replay system by dialing 1 (800) 475-6701 and entering replay access code 463809. International participants may dial 1 (320) 365-3844, the replay access code 463809. That will conclude our teleconference. You may disconnect.