Is Priceline going to $1,500?
The Priceline Group Inc. (NASDAQ: PCLN) has made a strong push since January. Strong earnings in February and a solid business plan for Priceline’s international expansion have drawn the attention of analysts. As a result, Argus initiated coverage of Priceline with a Buy rating and a $1,480 price target, implying an upside of 24% from current prices.
The firm also believes that strong fourthquarter results eased investor worries that foreign-exchange headwinds would cause growth in international bookings to slow. In the first quarter of 2015, international bookings are projected to increase 17% to 24% in constant currencies.
The five-year earnings growth rate forecast is 20%. In the past three years, Priceline has repurchased $1.2 bln of its stock. In February, the board authorised a $3 bln share buyback programme. Reflecting in part share repurchases, Argus projected 2015 earnings per share (EPS) of $60.20 and 2016 EPS of $70.50.
Shares appear favourably valued at 16.5 times the Argus 2016 EPS estimate, compared to the five-year historical range of 8 to 24. The firm believes the company’s leading position in the global online travel market, history of positive earnings surprises and exposure to the growing Chinese market warrant a multiple near the top of the historical range. In view of the large untapped market for online bookings, the firm expects the shares’ forward multiple to move higher.
Priceline expects the bookings for the first quarter of 2015 to grow 14% to 21% in constant currencies. International bookings are projected to increase 17% to 24%.
On February 18, Priceline reported fourth-quarter revenue of $1.84 bln and EPS of $10.85. Revenue and earnings were up 19% and 29%, respectively, for the quarter. The consensus estimates had been for revenue of $1.8 bln and EPS of $10.10. The positive earnings surprise reflected 27% higher international bookings in constant currencies.
Priceline is willing to sacrifice near-term margins in order to grow over the next several years. Considering the company’s strong margins, healthy cash balance and rapid growth, Argus considers this a wise decision. Argus expects revenue to increase 14% in 2015, to $9.6 bln. In 2016, driven by strong growth in bookings, revenue is expected to rise 15% to $11.0 bln. Despite weak foreign currencies, the firm expects a higher volume and modestly higher prices, helped by economic recovery in Europe.
On Monday afternoon, shares of Priceline were up 2.7% to $1,191.89, in a 52-week trading range of $990.69 to $1,329.90. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $1,362.36.