The naysayers are piling up on Baidu's (NASDAQ:BIDU) doorstep. China's leading search engine began the month with nearly 6.9 million shares sold short. You have to go back more than a year to find the last time Baidu had more bearish wages placed against it.
Baidu isn't at its best right now. The stock is trading near December's two-year lows, and even China's own CEO has tried to temper near-term enthusiasm ahead of this week's quarterly financial update. Put another way, even Baidu doesn't seem to be putting up much of a fight against the growing crowd of boo birds betting against the online giant.
Thursday don't be late
Baidu isn't growing as quickly as it did in its prime. Its guidance four months ago was calling for a 15% to 20% uptick in revenue -- or 20% to 26% adjusted for asset sales over the past year. Wall Street's been whittling down its target, and it's now eyeing just 14% in revenue growth.
Things are even less impressive on the bottom line, where analysts see the prior year's fourth-quarter profit of $2.15 a share replaced by $1.76 a share this time around. Wall Street pros have been scaling back their earnings forecasts in recent weeks. A month ago, they were aiming at $1.87 a share.
The pessimism heading into Thursday afternoon's report isn't a good look, and Baidu hasn't helped matters. Baidu CEO Robin Li kicked off 2019 by sending a letter to employees, warning them that winter is coming given the challenges of China's slowing economy. At least four analysts would go on to slash their price targets on Baidu last month.
There was one upgrade. OTR Global boosted its rating on Baidu, arguing that industry checks show improving advertising trends. However, most of OTR Global's peers don't see things that way.
It's easy to be down on Baidu these days, but the smarter play appears to be contrarian. Baidu is still the undisputed champ of search in China, and that's the kind of pole position that will continue to pay off even with China's economy growing at its slowest pace in decades. Analysts are generally down on Baidu here, and the same can be said when it comes to investors given the high short interest ratio on the stock. However, Wall Street has made it a habit to underestimate Baidu's profit potential. Baidu has beaten analyst income forecasts by at least 12% in each of the past four quarters.
Baidu has been better, but it's not broken. Even the whiff of a modest quarterly report could trigger a short squeeze, busting Baidu out of its rut. Though there's a lack of believers in Baidu these days, that's not necessarily a bad thing.