You can't spell Ctrip.com
In the leading Chinese travel website's third-quarter report, revenue rose 15% to $54.5 million. Margins, meanwhile, deteriorated, with earnings falling by 5% to $0.22 a share. But as lackluster as it all sounds, it was roughly in line with market expectations. The Olympic Games were a coup for companies booking foreigners and athletes, but Ctrip specializes in getting Chinese citizens themselves booked into hotels and checked into airplanes.
Ctrip's fall comes with Wall Street expecting a healthy year-over-year pickup in business during the current quarter. Analysts are looking for a 38% top-line advance in the fourth quarter, but now Ctrip's outlook calls for net revenue to inch just 5% to 15% higher.
If Ctrip's growth is slowing, one can only imagine what smaller rival eLong
Ctrip had blown past Wall Street's profit targets in each of the six previous quarters before simply hitting the mark this time around. But even though the stock has come down a long way, it's still trading at a healthy earnings multiple. That's why the stock was the subject of one of my "Throw This Stock Away" columns back in July.
There are plenty of ways to play the travel boom in China. Ctrip's air-ticketing business climbed 21% during the period, versus 6% for hotel reservations revenue. Hospitality chain Home Inns & Hotels
The upshot is that Ctrip is still growing. It also has a balance sheet brimming with $207 million in cash, which it can use to pounce on tactical acquisitions or buybacks.
Investors have a right to be cautious. Ctrip typically lowballs expectations, but it certainly wasn't conservative last time around. Until the deceleration stabilizes or margins recover, this may be one worth watching at a distance.
Other stops on the Ctrip itinerary: