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Baidu.com, Inc. (ADR) (BIDU) Is Betting on Mobile Search

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Baidu.com, Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU)‘s dominance in the Chinese search business is under attack. The influx of mobile technology is not only taking down the PC industry, but also the companies that have been reliant on personal computers. Baidu.com, Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU) is China’s largest search engine, and may threaten to rival Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) globally, due to the massive Asian population.

Baidu.com, Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU)

Local competition is heating up

Baidu.com, Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU) accounts for 75% of China’s desktop search business, but trails Easou in the mobile search market. It’s also facing competition from SINA Corp (NASDAQ:SINA), Qihoo 360 Technology Co Ltd (NYSE:QIHU) and Sohu.com Inc (NASDAQ:SOHU) in the search battleground. Sina, mostly a social networking player, is starting to mount a serious challenge in search. On the other hand, Qihoo360 and Sohu.com Inc (NASDAQ:SOHU) are continuing to challenge for mobile search dominance.

In the most recent quarter Qihoo 360 Technology Co Ltd (NYSE:QIHU) CEO, Hongyi Zhou said, “We are also very pleased with the progress we have made in search and mobile monetization, even though this business is still in its early stage.”

Unexploited mobile search is becoming an attractive business segment in China. And that’s why Baidu.com, Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU) is throwing in so much cash to try to replicate its desktop dominance.

Smaller margins for mobile

The company’s push for mobile search is expensive. Its heavy investment in mobile search drove costs higher, and consequently put pressure on margins. Baidu’s margins declined sequentially primarily due to an increase in administrative and selling costs. This cost unit was up 88% year-over-year as the company intensified promotions and advertisements towards popularizing its mobile search platform.

On a positive note, its daily mobile search users grew by 25% to 100 million during the quarter, with the growth largely attributed to the aggressive marketing campaign. Baidu.com, Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU) is focusing more on enhancing its user experience than on monetization.  Securing the user experience, which guarantees growth in numbers and engagement means increased market share.

So the strategy is to increase market share and then monetize. With a large user base, even the slightest uptick in average revenue per user could push overall revenue.  Consider Facebook, whose ad revenue per user continues to oscillate within the $3 mark–yet this is still the its largest revenue generator. The social networking giant’s members have been the driving force to this achievement.  Its $2.85 ARPU translates to billions considering its massive user base. This is where Baidu is headed.

Baidu stomps the comps

With a profit margin of 44.21%, Baidu.com, Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU) sets the bar for its rivals, who are way behind. Sina, for instance, has a profit margin of 5.88%, while Sohu.com Inc (NASDAQ:SOHU)’s profits are pegged at a margin of 7.71%. Baidu’s trailing 12-month P/E also makes it the cheapest among the trio.  The number 1 China search engine giant appears to be the most attractive fundamentally.

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