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Priceline.com Inc (PCLN), Expedia Inc (EXPE): Is Priceline Worth the Price?

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With consumer spending on the rise, some of the natural beneficiaries are travel companies, as traveling is something people love to do when they have money. Several firms in the industry have seen strong rallies this year, on the back of better-than-expected results. Priceline.com Inc (NASDAQ:PCLN), one of the largest travel websites, recently came out with a solid earnings beat, and has over the last few years been growing earnings impressively. Additionally, the stock isn’t too expensive at the moment.

Company Overview

Priceline.com Inc (NASDAQ:PCLN) is an online travel company, known among other things for its Name Your Own Price system. It provides hotel reservations, as well as airline tickets and car rentals. With a market cap of $46.74 billion, it is one of the largest companies in the industry, and its stock has rallied over 66% in the last twelve months. Not too volatile, the stock has a beta of 1.16.

Impressive Growth

Priceline.com Inc (NASDAQ:PCLN)Despite the economic downturn that has affected many consumer-oriented industries throughout the crisis, Priceline.com Inc (NASDAQ:PCLN) has been doing a fantastic job growing earnings over the last six years or so. Annual EPS has grown from $4.04 in 2007 to $31.28 in 2012, EPS increasing as well as beating estimates every single year. Going forward, analysts expect a 3-5 year growth rate of around 52%.

The company’s latest report, for Q2 2013, showed yet another quarter of strong growth. Excluding items, EPS came in at $9.70, easily beating the $9.37 consensus. This figure was up some 24% from the same period a year ago. Consolidated gross bookings of $10.1 billion increased by 38% year-over-year, and revenue of $1.68 billion also comfortably beat the $1.65 billion consensus estimate.

The company saw especially strong growth in the car rental segment, with rental car days booked up 46%. Hotels also did well, with hotel room nights booked up 38% for the quarter. During this period, Priceline.com Inc (NASDAQ:PCLN) completed the acquisition of Kayak, which contributed about 3% of inorganic growth. Looking ahead to Q3, the company expects an increase in total gross bookings of between 27% and 34%, with revenue growth between 23% and 30%.

Online Travel Competitors

Expedia Inc (NASDAQ:EXPE) is one of Priceline.com Inc (NASDAQ:PCLN)’s major US competitors. This company has also been growing annual EPS over the last few years, but compared to Priceline, this growth appears almost stagnant. Between 2007 and 2012, annual EPS grew by only 27%. Additionally, annual EPS missed analyst estimates every year except 2009 and 2011. With an expected 3-5 year growth rate of -0.2%, things aren’t expected to get much better either. Additionally, the stock is more expensive than Priceline’s.

Chinese competitor Ctrip.com International, Ltd. (ADR) (NASDAQ:CTRP), which offers travel services mainly in China, has also been having a hard time growing earnings in recent times. Annual EPS dipped to $0.80 in 2012 after peaking at $1.12 in 2011. Nevertheless, the stock is up an astounding 221% over the last year, on the back of some very sizable EPS beats in 2012 and 2013. This has left the stock trading at a steep premium however, and it remains to be seen how long it will be able to keep up this performance.

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