Baidu's 79% Solution

China's biggest search engine plans on getting even bigger.

Reuters is reporting that Tang Hesong, Baidu's (Nasdaq: BIDU  ) GM for corporate development, told reporters yesterday that his company is targeting a chunky 79% slice of China's search and mobile search market by next year.

Ever since Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) physical retreat out of mainland China this year, investors have been challenged to come up with how big Baidu's share of the market will ultimately be.

Would this be an opportunity for smaller engines such as Sohu.com's (Nasdaq: SOHU  ) Sogou and Tencent's Soso? Is this a chance for Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Bing to fill Google's shoes as the distant silver medalist?

Before delving into the magnitude of Hesong's target of fulfilling roughly four of every five search requests, let's go over how China Web-traffic tracker Analysys International has seen the two most recent quarters play out.

Search Engine

Q1 2010

Q4 2009

Baidu

64%

58.4%

Google

30.9%

35.6%

Sogou

0.7%

1%

Soso

0.4%

0.7%

Others

4%

4.3%

Source: Analysys International.

Take a close look at the table. Google's share of the market slipped dramatically sequentially this past quarter, as its situation in China deteriorated. Baidu would be a natural landing place for some of the Google defectors, but notice that it's the only leading engine that benefited. Sogou, Soso, and the collective of smaller engines all dipped.

In light of this news, Hesong's claims aren't all that outlandish. After all, 79% of the market would simply mean nabbing half of Google's share of the market before it threw in the towel over China's restrictive censorship policies.

This should be huge for Baidu. Keep in mind that China's online migration is still in its infancy, so the pie itself should be larger next year. The Chinese economy also continues to grow at a robust clip, so advertisers are likely to spend more to reach their audiences.

Bigger slice? Bigger pie? Bigger budgets per lead? These are three layered reasons to get excited about Baidu even at today's lofty earnings multiples.

I recommended shares of Baidu to Motley Fool Rule Breakers subscribers at a split-adjusted $8.34 a share four years ago. It continues to be a speedster. Revenue and earnings grew by 60% and 165%, respectively, in its latest quarter.

There will always be some degree of uncertainty here. China could clamp down tighter on Internet access, for example, or Google could march back into the market. However, the serious upside more than justifies the risk.

Is Baidu overvalued? It is safe to buy into China these days? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Baidu, Google, and Sohu.com are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns no shares in any of the stocks in this article. 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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