Was a Baidu Blowout Ever in Doubt?

The bears can't say that they weren't warned.

Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU  ) posted another blowout quarter last night, and it wasn't a surprise to anyone who was paying attention.

We can start with analysts scrambling to position themselves in the bullish corner heading into the report. Macquarie Research initiated coverage of China's leading search engine with an "outperform" rating last week. Stifel Nicolaus analyst George Askew reiterated his firm's "buy" rating yesterday, just hours before Baidu was set to deliver its fourth-quarter numbers. Wall Street doesn't rally behind a company this close to a report unless their channel checks are coming up positive.

Bears also could have kept an eye on options trading activity. Three hours before Baidu spilled the beans, Reuters ran a story featuring comments by options analytics firm investingwithoptions.com.

"Options expiring on a weekly basis are pricing in about a 7% to 8% move by this Friday," the site's founder told Reuters, suggesting breakout earnings.

If cynics failed to catch on to any of these indicators, they could still have just respected the trend.

I published a table last week detailing Baidu's recent history of blowing skeptics away in recent quarters.

Reporting Period EPS Estimate Actual
Q4 2009

$0.17

$0.18

Q1 2010

$0.15

$0.20

Q2 2010

$0.31

$0.35

Q3 2010

$0.42

$0.45

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

"If history's any indicator, there's a pretty good chance that Baidu will keep its streak of market-thumping quarters going this time around," I concluded.

Yep. That's about right.

Baidu's quarterly revenue soared 94% to $371.3 million with earnings skyrocketing 171% to $0.50 a share. Analysts were only expecting a profit of $0.46 on $360.8 million in revenue, but what else is new?

Investors will naturally wonder if Baidu's growth is sustainable. At this rate, it's not. Baidu benefited from China's booming economy and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) partial retreat out of the world's most populous country earlier in the year. Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Bing has been striking deals to grow its presence in China and Sohu.com's (Nasdaq: SOHU  ) Sogou is growing faster than Baidu on a percentage basis, but Baidu actually gained market share in 2010 at Google's expense. The year ahead won't be as rich in low-lying fruit.

Analysts see revenue and earnings growing by a little better than 60% in 2011, justifying Baidu's lofty price tag. Then again, seeing the way Wall Street routinely underestimates Baidu's earnings power, the dot-com speedster may be even cheaper than you think.

Do you think Baidu is overpriced? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Baidu, Google, and Sohu.com are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has only been to China once, but he relishes admiring its dot-com revolution from afar. He does not own 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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