The big news was a late-Monday increase in guidance, but investors don't seem to know what to make of it. You can't really blame them. After all, if things are so great, why the simultaneous announcement of an $85 million debt offering? Shucks, you think management might have timed this to avoid any panic selling as a result of the debt announcement. I'll report. and, come to think of it, I'll decide, too. Yes.
The upped expectations now call for second-quarter pro forma (read, "whatever we say they are") earnings of $0.29 to $0.32 per share, which are up from the May 2 predictions of $0.25 to $0.30. It would've been nice of the Priceline folks to give us an idea of what they expect to see in the way of real earnings, but maybe I'm just being old-fashioned. Dot-coms are, after all, dot-coms. And as I've noted before, the firm's evolving business model does make it tough to compare the new numbers with the old.
Enough of my wishing. This first announcement looks like decent news. The announcement basically raised the bar for the entire biz, gross bookings for airline tickets, car rentals, and hotel nights, too. The firm was already outperforming some tough competitors, and it looks like it might be doing even better.
Still, I can't help but keep wondering about that debt issue. At the end of last quarter, Priceline had $278 million in cash, restricted cash, and short-term investments, and next to $125 million in long-term debt. Can you say acquisition? I thought you could.
Don't be surprised if Priceline uses some of its growing stash to pick off one or more smaller travel sites, as it did with Travelweb.com. That could help it stay in the fight against competition like Cendant's
As for shareholder reaction, let's share a cleansing breath. Sure, Priceline is still risky, but given its respectable execution and increasingly firm foothold in this tough field, investors could do worse than travel with this crew.
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