Yesterday, Airbnb published its results for 2023. All good news on the face of it: compared to 2022, bookings up 16% in value and 14% in volume; sales up 18%; $3.8 billion in free cash flow; and a massive new $6 billion share buyback plan.

The tourist and seasonal rental platform continues to expand its offering: it now boasts 5 million hosts and 7.7 million listings, again an 18% increase on last year. CEO Brian Chesky says he has only scratched the surface of Airbnb's international expansion potential; in particular, Brazil, Germany and South Korea are in his sights.

However, the figures given at the top of the press release need to be approached with some caution. The explosion in net income - from $1.9 to $4.8 billion - is mainly due to a tax refund of $2.7 billion, while the pseudo free cash flow of $3.8 billion still includes $1.1 billion in stock option compensation.

One point on which the Group's communication remains surprisingly timid is the decline in operating profit, from $1.8 billion in 2022 to $1.5 billion in 2023. This is despite the clear growth in sales. Administrative expenses, for example, have doubled over the year, though this has nothing to do with stock option compensation.

In fact, cash management remains Airbnb's most profitable business segment. The platform is largely remunerated on the $10 billion it holds in its own name and the $6 billion it immobilizes via its customers' guarantee deposits, i.e. a nice loot of $16 billion in total.

The net interest margin generated by investing this cash amounts to $638 million over 2023, in other words a third of pre-tax profit. One could almost joke that Airbnb will soon be more of a bank than a tourism specialist! For the group, in any case, a further rise in rates would certainly be a blessing.

Its supporters will argue that Airbnb is profitable, well-capitalized, still growing and led by a first-rate team. Its critics, on the other hand, will continue to see its platform as little more than a stopgap to recoup demand that hotels can't absorb.

They'll also mention that Booking is more profitable, launched on the same growth trajectory, just as well managed, yet valued at a lower multiple. But Airbnb is a Silicon Valley star, while Booking is listed in Europe: perhaps that explains it.