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Priceline.com shares hit 10-year high as earnings soar

August 4, 2010 |  2:04 pm

Some investors desperately wanted shares of Priceline.com on Wednesday -- and the price wasn’t an issue.

What would William Shatner say?

The stock rocketed as much as 24% after the online travel booking firm late Tuesday reported second-quarter earnings well above analysts’ forecasts, and also sharply boosted its forecast for the current quarter. The stock closed at $281.30, up $50.63, or 22% for the session.

The shares now are at their highest level since the end of the dot-com mania in 2000, and are up 29% year to date.

Shatner Priceline said customers’ gross travel bookings soared 43% in the quarter ended June 30 from a year earlier, to $3.4 billion, as demand resurged worldwide with the recovering economy.

The company recorded revenue of $767 million in the quarter, up 27% from a year earlier. International revenue growth led the way, up 63% to $323 million.

Net income jumped 72% to $115 million, or $2.26 a share, from $67 million, or $1.38 a share.

What’s more, Priceline estimated that net earnings in the current quarter would be between $4.06 and $4.26 a share. Analysts had expected about $3.45 a share.

The company said its European bookings improved quickly last quarter after the air-travel disruption caused by ash from an Icelandic volcano in spring.

“We had very strong results in Europe,” Jeff Boyd, Priceline’s chief executive, said on a conference call with analysts Tuesday. He said that “widespread concern that a sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone would lead to a falloff in travel demand has not yet materialized, and business results to date are encouraging.”

Still, Boyd said, “We remain concerned that government deficits and consequent austerity measures could impact economic recovery and travel demand in the future.”

But Wall Street clearly was focusing on the positives in Priceline’s report and forecasts. Boyd said that overall demand and pricing trends for travel bookings worldwide were “consistent with improving economic conditions.”

Although Priceline’s shares now are at their highest level since 2000, they’re still far below the peak price reached during the dot-com mania -- when price truly was no object.

Adjusted for the company's 1-for-6 reverse stock split in 2003, the shares traded as high as $974 apiece on April 30, 1999, according to Bloomberg data. That was in a year the company booked a net loss of $1.06 billion.

Investors in 1999 who were betting on Priceline's eventual success had it right. They just grossly overpaid for that success.

-- Tom Petruno

Image: Priceline.com "negotiator" William Shatner. Credit: Priceline.com

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