William Shatner in a Priceline.com ad. The company's stock is in sight of breaking the S&P 500's $1,000 price barrier.
To boldly go where no stock has gone before...
Driven at warp speed by Star Trek's Capt. Kirk (aka TV pitchman William Shatner), Priceline.com is set to become the S&P 500's first ever $1,000 stock.
That astronomical price is a result of not only domestic growth but gains in market share in countries slow to transfer over to online travel bookings.
"Priceline's comeback is almost as remarkable as Shatner's," said Simon Baker of Baker Avenue Asset Management. "Their recent blowout numbers were particularly impressive. Crank the dial to 1,000 and 'Beam me up, Scotty.'"
Shares of Priceline are up more than 70 percent since bringing back Shatner of "Star Trek" fame back as its star in U.S. advertisements one year ago (after "killing" him off seven months prior in an ad).
Maybe the thought of breaking through the $1,000 price barrier made investors nervous on Monday as the stock actually fell over $10, or 1.1 percent, on the Nasdaq. Still, at $959.45 per share, the four-digit price is still closer than a new galaxy for the Starship Enterprise.
The stock went into warp drive last week after the company reported net income jumped 24 percent in the second quarter, as travel bookings climbed 38 percent. Even more impressive, international bookings surged 44 percent in the period, marking the fifth quarter in a row of 40 to 45 percent growth for that metric, according to Piper Jaffray.
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At least 17 Wall Street analysts came out with glowing reports after the earnings release, raising their share price targets to above $1,000. The average target price of those analysts is $1,133.
Standard & Poor's confirmed there has never been a $1,000 a share member in the 56-year history of the S&P 500, even during the dot-com bubble that gave birth to Priceline. Of course back then, many companies would split their shares before getting close to that milestone.
That financial maneuver has grown out of practice as companies try to emulate Warren Buffett's and Steve Jobs' dislike of stock splits for encouraging speculation. Currently, Google—whose founders also don't believe in splitting stock—has the second-highest stock price in the index at $884 a share.
While an astute acquisition of fare aggregator Kayak.com will help drive Priceline's growth in the U.S., it's the company's international sites like Booking.com, TravelJigsaw and Agoda that will be the biggest driver of future earnings growth, according to the analysts.
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Goldman Sachs sees adjusted earnings per share jumping 11 percent in 2014 and 14 percent in 2015 as Europe stabilizes.
"Priceline is one of the few stocks on a monster run in 2013 where the company has grown earnings just as quickly as the stock has appreciated," said Enis Taner, global macro editor for RiskReversal.com. "In the past three years earnings have tripled and the stock has tripled. This stock is no bubble."
The one concern analysts cited was overspending on marketing expenses, especially in Europe as Priceline tries to steal from existing sites or be the first stop for users switching from offline to online hotel bookings. But if the company can keep margins under control, the trip to $1,000 should be coming in at least the next 12 months, analysts said.
Ironically, it may be its pitchman who needs a raise. As the stock rocketed higher last week, Shatner tweeted;
"Congratulations to @Priceline on their stock price. Wish I hadn't sold my stock all those years ago."
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First published August 12 2013, 11:22 AM