As the world's third-richest person and most celebrated investor, Warren Buffett attracts a lot of attention. Thousands try to glean what they can from his thinking processes and track his investments.

We can't know for sure whether Buffett is about to buy Ctrip (Nasdaq: CTRP) -- he hasn't specifically mentioned anything about it to me -- but we can discover whether it's the sort of stock that might interest him. Answering that question could also reveal whether it's a stock that should interest us.

In his most recent 10-K, Buffett lays out the qualities he looks for in an investment. In addition to adequate size, proven management, and a reasonable valuation, he demands:

  1. Consistent earnings power.
  2. Good returns on equity with limited or no debt.
  3. Management in place.
  4. Simple, non-techno-mumbo-jumbo businesses.

Does Ctrip meet Buffett's standards?

1. Earnings power
Buffett is famous for betting on a sure thing. For that reason, he likes to see companies with demonstrated earnings stability.

Let's examine Ctrip‘s earnings and free cash flow history:

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Free cash flow is adjusted based on author’s calculations.

Over the past five years, Ctrip has grown earnings considerably.

2. Return on equity and debt
Return on equity is a great metric for measuring both management's effectiveness and the strength of a company's competitive advantage or disadvantage -- a classic Buffett consideration. When considering return on equity, it's important to make sure a company doesn't have an enormous debt burden, because that will skew your calculations and make the company look much more efficient than it actually is.

Since competitive strength is a comparison between peers, and various industries have different levels of profitability and require different levels of debt, it helps to use an industry context.



Return on Equity (LTM)

Return on Equity (5-Year Average)




Expedia (Nasdaq: EXPE)




Orbitz (NYSE: OWW)




eLong (Nasdaq: LONG)




Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Ctrip generates fairly high returns on equity. It doesn't have any debt.

3. Management
Co-founder Min Fan has been CEO since 2006.

4. Business
The online travel booking industry may not be wholly susceptible to technological disruption, though change is a part of the business.

The Foolish conclusion
Regardless of whether Buffett would ever buy Ctrip, we've learned that it exhibits some of the characteristics of a quintessential Buffett investment: consistent earnings, high returns on equity with limited debt, and long-tenured management.

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