Baidu (BIDU 2.65%) bounced back in a major way last year, but at least one analyst thinks that China's reborn dot-com darling is going even higher in 2014. JPMorgan's Alex Yao is boosting his year-end price target on Baidu to $210.
Yao's upgrade was enough to send the stock higher on Wednesday. It then went on to hit a fresh all-time high on Thursday before closing lower on the trading day.
Like most bulls, Yao's excited about Baidu beyond its stronghold in search, where it commands roughly two-thirds of China's search traffic. He's particularly fond of Baidu's growing presence in mobile, giving it a potentially wider audience than those tethered to PCs.
It certainly didn't seem as if Baidu was going to be much of a player in the smartphone revolution a year ago. The stock fell into the double digits, dogged by growth concerns and Qihoo 360's (QIHU.DL) emergence as a potential threat in China's search market.
However, the acquisition of a leading mobile app marketplace provider and shrewd moves to gain ground in online video, travel, and daily deals have transformed Baidu into not only a diversified Internet juggernaut, but one that's thriving in areas that lend themselves naturally to mobile.
Baidu didn't defeat Qihoo 360. If anything, Qihoo 360 is growing faster than Baidu, and rewarded investors with a bigger gain in 2013 than Baidu's solid 77% surge. The point here is that it simply doesn't matter. China's online migration continues at a heady pace, and that's creating opportunities for several market leaders across various categories.
Yao's new 12-month target of $210 prices Baidu at 29 times JPMorgan's earnings forecast for 2014 and just 20 times next year's profit projection. That's more than reasonable given Baidu's growth.
If anything, $210 may be too low. After all, it only implies a gain of 18% this year. Baidu is naturally growing faster than that, so it means that Baidu at $210 at year's end will be cheaper then than it is right now.
Buying into China has always had its unique risks, but given the lofty valuations of growth stocks closer to home it's a risk that investors may want to consider taking.