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LinkedIn swings to first-quarter loss on higher spending; slumping stock slides further

FILE - In this Monday, May 9, 2011 file photo, LinkedIn Corp., the professional networking Web site, displays its logo outside of headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. LinkedIn began 2014 with its largest quarterly loss since going public as the online professional networking service ramped up its investments in projects aimed at attracting more users on the lookout for better jobs and career advice.. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

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FILE - In this Monday, May 9, 2011 file photo, LinkedIn Corp., the professional networking Web site, displays its logo outside of headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. LinkedIn began 2014 with its largest quarterly loss since going public as the online professional networking service ramped up its investments in projects aimed at attracting more users on the lookout for better jobs and career advice.. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

SAN FRANCISCO - LinkedIn began the year with its largest quarterly loss since going public as the online professional networking service ramped up its investments in projects aimed at attracting more users on the lookout for better jobs and career advice.

Despite the setback, the first-quarter results announced Thursday surpassed the analyst projections that sway investors. LinkedIn has cleared Wall Street's financial hurdles in all 12 of its quarters as a public company, a stretch dating back to May 2011.

Nevertheless, LinkedIn Corp. has fallen out of favour with investors amid concerns about the company's rising expenses and slowing revenue growth. Management issued a forecast indicating those trends will extend into the current quarter ending in June.

LinkedIn's stock shed $7.02, or 4.4 per cent, to $154.20 in Thursday's extended trading. The shares are about 40 per cent below their all-time high of $257.56 reached last September. LinkedIn's stock nearly doubled in value last year, enabling CEO Jeff Weiner to reap a nearly $170 million windfall by exercising some of the stock options he has accumulated since joining the company in 2008.

Despite the stock-price drop, LinkedIn remains intent on investing in projects aimed at connecting more workers with employers and recruiters.

"Given the opportunities we have in front of us, we're really investing here for the long haul," LinkedIn Chief Financial Officer Steve Sordello said during a Thursday conference call with analysts.

The Mountain View-based company is plowing more money into mobile applications, hiring employees and developing services designed to attract more users and more frequent visits to the company's website to help sell more advertising. Most of LinkedIn's revenue still comes from fees that employers and recruiters pay to gain greater access to the profiles posted on the networking service.

Some of LinkedIn's efforts appeared to pay off in the first quarter. Another 19 million accounts were set up, and LinkedIn ended March with 296 million users.

Total pages views — a telling indication of users' interest in an online service — reached 11.5 billion during the quarter, up from 11.1 billion at the same time last year. The page-view volume also exceeded the final three months of last year, an encouraging sign after user engagement had waned in the final half of last year.

LinkedIn lost $13.4 million, or 11 cents per share, during the first three months of the year. That contrasted with earnings of $22.6 million, or 20 cents per share, at the same time in 2013.

If not for the costs of employee stock compensation and certain other expenses, LinkedIn said it would have earned 38 cents per share. Analysts polled by FactSet predicted 34 cents per share.

Revenue rose 46 per cent to $473.2 million, about $7 million above analyst predictions.

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