China's leading search engine posted resilient quarterly results tonight. Revenue soared 60% to $858.8 million, comfortably ahead of the $850.8 million the pros were targeting. Net income soared 70% to $436 million -- or $1.24 a share. Analysts were only forecasting a profit of $1.12 a share.
This would seem to indicate a blowout quarter, and the market's initial reaction was to send the shares markedly higher. You don't even need a calculator to realize that $436 million in earnings is slightly more than half of the $858.8 million that it scored as revenue. Yes, net margins topped 50%!
However, the storybook margins begin to come undone on closer scrutiny. Operating profits, after all, only rose 52%. Traffic acquisition costs, R&D expenses, and bandwidth costs all rose faster than revenue.
Why is the bottom line so tasty? Well, it's largely a taxing situation. Baidu's effective tax rate was a mere 7.9% after a reversal of an earlier tax provision that Baidu had booked. China's corporate tax structure is kind to tech, but 7.9% is a far cry from last year's more realistic 14.9% effective tax rate.
This doesn't mean investors need to start worrying about Baidu. The Internet speedster is still growing at a stellar rate. The midpoint of Baidu's fresh revenue guidance for the quarter -- calling for its top line to clock in between $983 million and $1.009 billion -- is heartier than the $988 million that analysts were projecting.
Yes, we could be knee-deep in Baidu's first $1 billion quarter.
Baidu's paid-search platform is also showing no signs of slowing. The average advertising customer is spending 35% more to get noticed on Baidu than a year earlier.
China's been a bit of a minefield lately. Fallen darlings SINA
However, regardless of whether you side with the 52% pop in operating margins or the tax rate-assisted 70% surge in reported earnings, Baidu's still growing a lot faster than global search leader Google
The 60% top-line growth -- and surprisingly robust outlook for the current quarter -- just can't be ignored for a proven Internet leader trading at just 17 times next year's profit targets.
Bullish on Baidu
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The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Baidu.com. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Sohu.com, New Oriental Education, SINA, Baidu.com, and Google. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He owns no shares in any of the stocks in this story and is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.