Two Stocks to Buy Now – Priceline and Visa

Wednesday, August 6, 2008
By Faisal Laljee

The recent market correction has left many investors shell-shocked and bottom picking value seekers in the red. From financials to tech to energy, the fate of stocks like Citi (C), Exxon (XOM), Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) have left investors scratching their heads. How is it that the world’s most powerful name in banking has fallen by 67% in a year for their mortgage exposure? How is Exxon at 52-week lows even as oil is still up 100% over the last year? Why are oil refiners like Valero (VLO) and Tesoro (TS) down over 50% each even as gas prices at the pump are up 30% over last year? Why is Apple down 15% this year despite selling a million 3G iPhones within 3 days of launch last month and gaining market share in PC sales? And Google, how does it drop 35% despite generating $1.25 billion in earnings at a 35% growth rate?

These are some of the questions many investors are asking, and while some can be answered with a little more certainty than others, it does not negate the fact, that markets are extremely finicky. Stocks go up and down, sometimes without any reason.

Consider two such stocks that are down after reporting top-notch earnings. Priceline and Visa.

Priceline is in a tough environment with consumer spending on the decline, and the weak dollar dissuading US travelers from going to Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia. Travel is a leisure activity and in tough economic conditions, it is the first thing to get the boot. Even in such an environment, Priceline reported earnings of $78.5 million, or $1.55 per share excluding special items. Revenues grew 44.4% to $513.9 million, beating analyst estimates of $1.41 per share, on revenues of $495.7 million. Bookings for the quarter increased to $2.1 billion with growth in international and domestic bookings up 75% and 59% respectively. The company even increased their outlook for the next year. Despite nothing but good news, the stock is off 17% today and down 34% since early May. At $97, the company trades at less than 14 times earnings. At these rates, and considering the quality of their earnings in this tough environment, the stock is both a value and a growth play. A year from now, the US economy will look very different, with most of the credit crisis behind us and the dollar in better shape against the Euro. Priceline should do a lot better in that environment.

A month ago, I wrote favorably about the stock in a post titled Priceline Takes Flight to Value. After today’s price action, the stock is down 10% from those levels and I am adding to my position at current levels.

As for Visa, worldwide adoption of credit cards is on the rise. In countries like India and China, where cash has been the only mode of transaction, banks are slowly starting to extend lines of credit, and that too is restricted to wealthy clientele. Most local merchants do not offer the convenience of credit cards and even ATM machines are not very common. Outside of North America and Europe, most of the world still deals very much in cash. This bodes well for Visa as the rest of the world steps up to the safer and more convenient mode of transactions – the credit card. Evidence of this can be derived from their recent earnings report where the company reported a 44% increase in revenue from international transaction fees alone.

Total operating revenue rose to $1.61 billion from $1.37 billion in the same quarter a year earlier and net income for the fiscal third quarter ended June 30 was $422 million, or 51 cents per share, an increase of 41% from a year ago when the company was private.

Critics say that tightening credit in the US is some cause for concern, however, this should be off-set by the increased usage of credit cards including the US where more cash-strapped consumers are turning to credit cards.

I have been bullish on the stock since it went public and wrote a piece titled “Visa – It’s everywhere you want to Invest” at the time of its IPO. Since then, the stock hit a high of $90 in May before pulling back some 20%. Despite great earnings, the stock has tumbled 10% in the last few days, mainly as a result of Mastercard’s (MA) less than stellar earnings. However, long-term investors can be rest assured this is one of those names that will continue to do well.

–Faisal Laljee

Full Disclosure: I own PCLN , V, MA and AAPL, but my position can change anytime without notice.

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One Response to “Two Stocks to Buy Now – Priceline and Visa”

  1. Stock Shotz

    I agree with the Visa call, but I think Priceline will be in a long downtrend. I can’t see the consumer rebound anytime soon. We interview investors such as Jim Rogers on our show and he recently made a very compelling case that the Fed has created an environment that will hold the dollar down for quite some time.

    you can view the interview on our site


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