Buy eBay…Wait, Sell eBay…Wait…

One of the tricky things about following eBay (EBAY) is fitting all the complex data points into a coherent picture. The company has three distinct units that sort of overlap, and is better than many about offering consistent data about each one. So even analysts and investors who have a good grasp on all the numbers are left to decide which numbers matter more.

We’re seeing some of that confusion at play in eBay’s stock following the release of its third-quarter results late Wednesday. The company posted a massive loss, but the stock rallied as much as 6 percent in after-hours trading because the bulk of that loss — the Skype writedown — was expected, and factoring it out showed eBay with good profit growth, not to mention strong revenues. [digg=]

Today, eBay’s stock not only gave up those aftermarket gains, it closed down more than 6 percent.

Some analysts, including Goldman Sachs’ Anthony Noto, issued positive research notes on eBay, but the culprit seems to be a report from Deutsche Bank’s Jeetil Patel, who painted a “worst-case scenario” for the company. Though as Tech Trader Daily points out, that scenario isn’t reflected in Patel’s relatively sunny estimates.

Sometimes it seems eBay is the Chauncey Gardiner of stocks: You see in it whatever you want to see. Its marketplace is either constantly deteriorating or constantly being improved by management. PayPal is either getting killed by Google (GOOG) or is a reliable contributor to profit growth. Skype is either a huge fiasco or a huge giant about to wake up from its nap.

It’s helpful to keep in mind that eBay’s stock has risen 19 percent since its second-quarter earnings report, in July. There was the same dithering right after the announcement, but then investors acted as if they saw a bargain. Today’s decline may simply be investors taking profits in the face of uncertainty. eBay certainly has its share of challenges, but I’d be surprised if the bullish case doesn’t pan out over the next quarter at least.