New highs for Priceline (again) on Q4 beat, bookings strength

|About: The Priceline Group Inc. (PCLN)|By:, SA News Editor

For the second quarter in a row (previous), Priceline (PCLN +2.5%) has rallied in spite of providing light guidance to go with a beat. The online travel giant has a long history of guiding conservatively, and analysts parsing its Q4 numbers think it's being cautious once again.

Gross bookings once again blew away guidance in Q4, growing 38.8% Y/Y vs. 37.5% in Q3 and a guidance range of 27%-34%. International bookings (85% of total bookings) rose 41.2% vs. 41.8% in Q3, and domestic bookings 26.5% vs. just 16.7%. Officially at least, Priceline expects 23%-33% Q1 bookings growth.

Stifel has upped its PT to $1,500 from $1,250, and sees the strong Q4 hotel room night growth delivered by Priceline (37% Y/Y) and rivals as evidence "Global travel remains in secular growth."

Stifel and others note Priceline's margins are under pressure (op. margin -200 bps Y/Y) as the company continues ramping marketing spend (ad spend rose 36% to $427M), but they add the Q4 decline was smaller than expected.

Evercore has hiked its 2014 bookings growth forecast to 32% and 28%. But it's only raising its gross profit forecast by 2%, due to a belief higher-margin opaque inventory deals will keep declining as a percentage of sales.

CC transcript