Expedia Gives an Amsterdam

You can book a flight to the Netherlands on Expedia (Nasdaq: EXPE  ) , but there's an easier way to go Dutch. The travel portal announced a massive $3.5 billion share repurchase through a modified Dutch auction format this morning.

Shareholders will have the option of tendering their shares later this month, at a price from $27.50 to $30.00 apiece. Shareholders may be tempted to tender at the high end, though Expedia will only snap up the 116,666,665 shares offered at the cheapest prices.

As is standard in Dutch auctions, all of the shares redeemed will be cashed out at the highest price tendered of the qualifying shares.

If successful, Expedia will be left with a wrecked balance sheet, but 42% fewer outstanding shares. The trick is getting there. The stock closed at $25.50 yesterday, but news of the buyback had the shares soaring to open at $29.62 this morning.

Few are likely to tender their shares at the low end -- or even at $30 -- if the stock continues to inch higher. Don't cry for Expedia if that happens, though. It will get what it wanted all along: a higher stock price.

The same thing happened to casual dining giant Brinker (NYSE: EAT  ) last year. The company announced a Dutch auction repurchase. The price ticked higher on the news, and the company wound up buying just 1.3 million of the 11.7 million shares that it had originally planned to snap up.

Sometimes it feels orchestrated, but the tab is all too real if the stock tanks and everyone is lining up to punch out. In Expedia's case, it can always happen if investors cool on travel booking sites like Expedia and Priceline.com (Nasdaq: PCLN  ) . Despite lackluster financials, Expedia shares have more than doubled since bottoming out last summer.

Now trading at 25 times this year's projected profitability, Expedia isn't exactly cheap as it grows its top and bottom lines at a fraction of that multiple. So be careful in chasing Expedia for a tender that may either not happen at $30 or -- worse -- find investors lucky to cash out at $27.50.

Your best bet to go Dutch may actually be to use Expedia to fly out to Holland. If you're in the mood for a beach vacation, I hear Aruba and Curacao are lovely this time of year.

Pricleline is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz still relies on the portals to get basic travel information, but then he sees if better deals can be had straight from the provider. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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