The online travel industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, and Priceline Group (NASDAQ:BKNG) has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the rise in popularity in booking travel over the internet and on mobile devices. The stock's price has soared, climbing above the $2,000 mark briefly during 2017 and showing ongoing signs of growth.
Yet despite its strong performance, Priceline has never chosen to reduce the price of its shares by splitting its stock. With yet another milestone in the books, some wonder whether 2018 might finally lead the travel-booking website operator to change its mind and give shareholders a regular stock split.
The only stock split that Priceline has ever done
Priceline has never done a conventional stock split, but it did have occasion to make a less-common move early in its history. In 2003, the company executed a reverse stock split, issuing one share of new Priceline stock for every six shares of old stock that investors had owned.
At the time, reverse splits were happening more often, because the fallout from the tech bust from 2000 to 2002 had weighed on the entire sector. High-flying stocks that had once soared to unprecedented heights found themselves having fallen substantially. Listing requirements on major exchanges typically require that a stock trade for at least $1 per share on a sustained basis, and Priceline had found itself coming close to the $1 mark on a number of occasions.
Another reason why Priceline decided to do a reverse stock split had to do with perception of the company. Even if a stock complies with listing requirements, investors still look at companies with share prices below $10 differently than they do higher-priced stocks. Priceline's move brought its stock more in line with its peers in the industry, allowing for easier comparisons among companies and making per-share metrics more precise. The online travel company's CEO at the time also said that a higher share price made it easier for investors to trade shares more inexpensively, reflecting commission schedules that sometimes had higher charges for buying or selling larger numbers of shares.
Priceline split-less success story
Many companies that do reverse splits fail, but Priceline was one of the few survivors. International expansion gave Priceline a head start versus other online travel specialists, and despite fears that technological advances would cut into travel budgets, the company has seen few signs of slowing travel activity worldwide. Smart acquisitions have also broadened Priceline's scope, enabling it to get into areas like restaurant reservation systems while also capturing would-be competitors in certain niche markets.
Despite its huge returns and immense popularity, Priceline has never embraced the idea of doing a stock split. Few shareholders have had a problem with that philosophy when the shares have been performing well, but past periods of sluggishness have led some to think that a stock split would renew investor interest in the shares when Priceline has gone through temporary tough times. Nevertheless, the issue hasn't come up when management has discussed the company's quarterly performance.
One reason why Priceline has been able to avoid stock splits is that it hasn't been the only holdout. Several other stocks now trade above the $1,000-per-share mark, and a much larger group has triple-digit share prices that used to be one of the most popular signs that a split was imminent. Moreover, Priceline has shown no interest in creating multiple share classes like some companies in the technology industry have, and that eliminates one of the newer corporate justifications for doing a split.
Don't expect a Priceline Group stock split in 2018
Crossing the $1,000 mark wasn't an impetus for a split, and Priceline shows no signs of concern about its stock price near the $2,000 level. As long as the stock can keep rising, shareholders will be happy to put up with Priceline's stubbornness while they count their long-term profits.