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Bulls and Bears Clash on Baidu

By Rick Munarriz – Dec 22, 2015 at 9:08AM

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China's leading search engine has a lot of shorts but also a lot of believers.

Source: Baidu. 

It seems to be both a bull and bear market for Baidu (BIDU -0.40%) these days. Shares of China's leading search engine provider have been volatile, and that's making the investment a hot target for both believers and naysayers. 

Baidu has been one of tech's biggest winners since going public at a split-adjusted $2.70 in 2005, and it seems as if there's always room for its biggest supporters to get more vocal. Credit Suisse analyst Dick Wei jacked up his price target on the shares last week, taking his goal from $210 to $251.

Wei is arriving at his new target by weighing the value of its components. He feels that Baidu's flagship search platform is worth $207, a modest multiple of just 14 based on Credit Suisse's forward earnings outlook. 

That's naturally the big driver behind his price target of $251. He's valuing Baidu's 24% stake in (TCOM -4.97%) at $20 a share, its iQiyi video-streaming business at nearly $9 a share, and there's also nearly $15 a share in cash on its balance sheet. That all adds up to Wei's $251 per share, and that's before we consider the value of Baidu's recent initiatives to become a bigger player in online finance.  

Ctrip and iQiyi make sense because running a popular search engine makes it a natural gateway for online travel and video streaming, respectively. However, we can't dismiss the obvious appeal of Baidu consolidating everything from its mobile wallet platform to its recently announced Baixin Bank partnership under a dedicated online finance division. Online banking isn't even factored into Wei's assessment, so one has to wonder how much higher Baidu can go if it ever does get that right.

Along the way, we're also seeing a spike in folks betting on the stock moving lower. Short interest on Baidu has held steady north of 7.5 million since late October. That may not seem like a lot of skeptics, but it's actually three times the amount of shares that were shorted a year earlier. 

There will be plenty of opportunities for volatility in the future. Baidu's stock has been moving higher in recent months, even as Wall Street's profit targets for the dot-com darling have been heading lower. This is what happens when the market finally comes around to digging Baidu's offline to online -- or O2O -- pursuits, forgiving the margin contraction that comes with the territory.

Bulls are here. Bears are here. Only one side can win, and that's ultimately what makes investing so grand.  

Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Baidu. The Motley Fool recommends International. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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