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Baidu Stock Is Priced for Imperfection

By Rick Munarriz - Aug 21, 2019 at 4:05PM

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Three analysts check in on China's leading search engine after a mixed but initially well-received quarterly report.

Baidu (BIDU 2.13%) shares are off to a great start this week, soaring more than 12% through the first two days of trading. Shares of China's leading search engine provider rose 8% on Monday ahead of its critical second-quarter report. Financial results that weren't spectacular but refreshingly adequate helped push the stock higher by better than 4% on Tuesday.

Baidu has had its say, and now analysts are giving it a shot. At least three Wall Street pros have tweaked their price targets since Monday afternoon's quarterly release. There may not be a lot of newsworthy nuggets in the initial takes, but there's an encouraging trend once you step back and look at the big picture.

Baidu researchers at work showing off deep learning features running on their smartphones.

Image source: Baidu.

Adding it all up

Fawne Jiang at Benchmark kicked things off by lowering her price target from $180 to $165, a move that isn't as bearish as it may seem at first glance given that the shares began the week trading in the double digits. She was encouraged by the solid second-quarter results and Baidu's advances in mobile, a market that remains in the early stages of monetization. The soft guidance for the current quarter isn't a surprise given the industry headwinds as China's economy slows, but she sees promise in Baidu's cost controls with operating margins continuing to improve. She is sticking to her bullish buy rating.

Another bull, Binnie Wong at HSBC, is lifting her price goal on the shares from $137 to $141. She concedes that Baidu is bumping up against some macro challenges at the moment, but Wong sees an inflection point coming next year. She feels that some of its earlier investments outside of search that may be dragging down results in the meantime could be positive contributors in the near future.

The lone non-bull among the three is Jialong Shi, slashing his price target from $134 to $118 as he sticks to his neutral stock rating. He's not excited about Baidu's near-term prospects given this week's guidance calling for top-line growth to continue decelerating into the third quarter.

Having two of the three analysts lower their price targets isn't a good look, but the stock has fallen sharply since the last time they updated their official positions. It's encouraging to note that even the neutral Shi's new goal is still ahead of where the stock is after Tuesday's post-earnings pop. The new targets are between 9% and 52% higher than Tuesday's close, giving the stock a healthy ceiling at the midpoint of the revised price goals.

This latest quarter wasn't pretty. Revenue growth has slowed to 6% adjusted for recent divestitures, and it's targeting more flattish results for the quarter ending next month. There is plenty of room for improvement, particularly in Baidu's bread-and-butter search business, which has been fading lately. However, with the stock no longer priced for perfection, even ho-hum news is welcome. Baidu is priced for imperfection, and that's not necessarily a bad situation for new investors.

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