We will get a great snapshot of China's online market when Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) reports after Wednesday's market close.
China's leading online search engine has been a market darling over the years, and it's been delighting investors lately with accelerating growth through 2013 that has remained strong in 2014.
There's plenty at stake for the stock that has more than doubled since the start of last year. Let's take a look at three things that investors will want to keep an eye on when the numbers come in.
1. Keeping the earnings beat momentum going
Baidu has been busy over the past two years expanding beyond its paid search stronghold. It has made acquisitions to have some more skin in video, travel, and mobile. That has reinvigorated the market's perception of Baidu as a diversified dot-com juggernaut, but it has come at the expense of margins. Baidu's net margins peaked at 47% in 2012, but have fallen to 30% over the past year according to CapitalIQ.
That's the price for diversification. Baidu went from routinely smoking Wall Street's profit targets in prior years to proving mortal in late 2013. Baidu has gone on to regain its winning touch this year. It has beaten analyst profit estimates by more than 20% in the year's first two quarters.
This doesn't mean that margins are expanding. It's about expectations here. Analysts see revenue soaring 52% in the third quarter, but they only see earnings per share inching 14% higher. It doesn't have to expand margins to stretch its streak of market-thumping bottom-line results to three quarters.
2. Checking in on recent deals
Baidu made waves last month after acquiring a controlling stake in Peixe Urbano, a Brazilian online discounter. Similar to Living Social or China's own Vipshop (NYSE:VIPS), Peixe Urbano offers marked-down wares from more than 30,000 merchants to its 20 million customers for a limited time.
Flash sale sites haven't caught the market's fancy here in the U.S., but China's Vipshop has been one of the Internet's fastest growing success stories. Brazil in general and Peixe Urbano in particular are unlikely to come close to Vipshop's success, but it will be interesting to see if Baidu can shed some light on the many puzzle pieces that it's been collecting over the past year and change.
3. Baidu's push for hardware
It was an interesting summer at Baidu World where the Chinese Internet leader offered up a glimpse at some potential forays into wearable computing and hardware.
Baidu demoed Baidu Eye, a smart camera that straps around the back of the head and provides audio information. It's not as fancy as Google Glass. It leans on a smartphone to provide the display. However, it's a low-tech push into wearable computing from a company that already knows how to draw a crowd in the world's most populous nation. Baidu also unveiled chopsticks that measure the quality of cooking oil. Given the food safety scares in China this could be a pretty big deal.
Baidu's Chief Scientist also made a bold prediction: revealing that his company will have a massive computing cluster that's 100 times more powerful than the Google Brain project that was unveiled two years ago. Deep learning is a new category for Baidu, but it's one that could pay off as it tries to continue to stay on top in China with improving search results and more accurate image recognition.
There are so many moving parts to Baidu these days that it's no longer just about its search engine's ad revenue.