Expedia Still Looks Attractive

10 Nov

Expedia (EXPE) released earnings yesterday and results were essentially flat year-over-year. The international business continued its stellar growth and actually helped dampen some of the weakness in the domestic business. Hotel revenue was up smartly but air revenue was down significantly. Expedia cites “record industry load factors” as the problem there. What this means is that there is currently high domestic demand for air travel, resulting in fewer unfilled seats. And because of high demand the airlines don’t need companies like Expedia to help them unload hard-to-fill seats, as was the case a few years ago following 9/11. This trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, but should be mitigated by higher hotel revenues and continued growth internationally.

During the third quarter, they bought back nearly 5% of outstanding shares at bargain prices. The bulk of this was done in July at average prices of just over $14/share. This makes each slice of the pie bigger for shareholders who hang on. Expedia issued a small amount of debt (which is just 8% of total capital) to accomplish such a large buyback in a single period, but I think this was done opportunistically because management saw the shares as cheap. Look for more of this in the future, as an additional 20 million-share repurchase has been authorized. Barry Diller has a controlling (55%) interest in the business so you can bet he’s got shareholder’s interests in mind.

On the surface, Expedia does not look cheap, trading at nearly 17 times next year’s consensus earnings estimates. Yet reported earnings sometimes do not tell the whole story. I see the company as a cash machine that is being run for the long-term benefit of shareholders. The company’s free cash flow yield (free cash flow per share divided by the share price) is over 16%. This is the same as saying that Expedia trades for about 6 times free cash flow per share. The company also holds $946 million, or 17% of its market value, in cash on the balance sheet. A private owner looks at the cash the business generates, not the “earnings” the company reports. To a private buyer, these would be attractive figures especially given the growth opportunities that lie ahead.

Disclosure: I own shares for clients as well as personally.

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