The Priceline Group Inc. (NASDAQ:PCLN) has been one of the best-performing stocks in the market over the last decade. The leading online travel agency has surged more than 2,000% over the last 10 years thanks to some smart acquisitions, but it wasn't always that easy.
Priceline, which began life during the dot-com era as priceline.com, famous for its name-your-price tool, was one of the few tech stocks to survive the internet bubble, but it did so barely. Priceline shares tumbled from nearly $1,000 in 2000 to just $6.60 in October 2002 as it got whacked first by the bubble bursting and then by 9/11, which crushed the travel and tourism industry. From there, the stock rebounded modestly, but traded below $45 through 2006.
It was one move in 2005 that set the stock on the blockbuster path that's played out over the last decade.
The power of an acquisition
Former CEO Jeffery Boyd took control of Priceline in 2002 with the company in disarray. It had extended its name-your-price gimmick to ancillary industries like grocery and gasoline fill-ups, but never earned a profit. Boyd exited the non-travel industries, and focused the company on hotels rather than airfare, which turned out to be a brilliant move.
Following the change in strategic direction, Priceline acquired Active Hotels in 2004 and Booking.com in 2005, and it would be Booking.com that would go on to be the company's profit engine.
Boyd targeted Europe for a reason. Europeans have twice as many vacation days as Americans, and cheap flights and the proximity of different countries encourages travel. At the time, the European online travel market was much younger than the U.S, and many independent hotels had no web presence at all.
That acquisition strategy has continued today as the company's premier brands include Kayak, Agoda, OpenTable, and Rentalcars.com. It now generates more than 80% of its revenue from outside the U.S., in large part thanks to the strength of Booking.com.
Can Priceline make you a millionaire?
With its dramatic rise since the aughts, chances are Priceline has already made more than a few millionaires. If you had invested $10,000 in the stock in its darkest days, you would have close to $3 million today.
Priceline is still a growth stock with earnings per share up 23% through the first half of the year. The stock plunged after weak guidance in its August earnings report, but shares have gained 29% over the past year and 26% year to date, easily outperforming the S&P 500.
However, the company today is much larger than it was when it was left for dead in the post-bubble days. With a market cap of $90 billion, Priceline simply isn't going to be a 10-bagger. The stock could certainly double or even triple from here, but growth is going to get harder as it gets bigger and takes up even more of the online travel market.
The industry is also changing with the rise of Airbnb, which threatens both Priceline's hotel partners and its hotel booking platforms themselves. While the hotel industry has been mostly resilient thus far, Airbnb continues to grow at a blistering pace with revenue up more than 80% last year.
To fend off Airbnb, Priceline is displaying more private home rentals, and rival Expedia (NASDAQ:EXPE) even bought Airbnb competitor Homeaway.
Nonetheless, Priceline's growth has remained strong, and with the global online travel industry now essentially a duopoly with it and Expedia, the company has less competition than it used to.
At this point, Priceline probably won't make you a millionaire, but it's a solid choice for any growth stock portfolio.