Priceline Stock Has a Lot to Prove on Monday

By Rick Munarriz Markets Fool.com

It's time forPriceline Group (NASDAQ: PCLN)to observe the seatbelt sign and buckle up. The online travel giant reports fresh financials after the market close on Monday, and at least one Wall Street pro is getting pumped about Priceline's prospects.

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MKM Partners analyst Rob Sanderson put out a new note on Friday morning, predicting that Priceline will meet or exceed the high end of its guidance in Monday's fourth-quarter report. He also expects relatively conservative guidance for the current quarter -- partly the fault of the timing of the Easter holiday that shifts between the first and second quarter from time to time -- but he's ultimately sticking to the Buy rating and $1,950 price target that he initiated last month.

Sanderson's bullish thesis last month was that Priceline offers best-in-class management in an important niche of secular growth. Priceline's presence in Europe -- where its Booking.com subsidiary is a juggernaut accounting for the lion's share of Priceline's total bookings -- is exciting to Sanderson given the region's category of luxury hotels and pared-back competition in major countries.

Sanderson's price target suggests 19% of upside from present levels, but obviously those goals can change based on how strong or weak Priceline's report ultimately turns out to be on Monday afternoon.

Image source: Priceline.

Turbulence isn't a bad thing if you have a window seat

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MKM Partners isn't the only firm to wax bullish ahead of next week's report. Ken Sena atEvercore ISI and Kevin Kopelman at Cowen put out notes earlier this month that were generally positive. Like Sanderson at MKM Partners, Sena's looking for fourth-quarter numbers ahead of market consensus with a lukewarm outlook for the first quarter. Kopelman is excited about the prospects for 2017 shaping up to be a strong year for travel based on early hotel industry data points. Priceline is Kopelman's top pick in this space.

Wall Street's general enthusiasm may seem to discount a strong quarter, a dangerous proposition since Priceline has actually missed analyst profit targets in each of 2016's first three quarters.

Analysts are expecting revenue to climb 16% to $2.32 billion in Monday's quarterly report. They're betting on a profit of $12.98 a share, less than 3% growth from the $12.63 a share it served up during the prior year's fourth quarter.

Priceline isn't standing still. Earlier this month it announced a $550 million deal for Momondo. The all-cash transaction will add the company behind the momondo travel portal that's popular in Europe and the CheapFlights.com website to its arsenal. Priceline is no stranger to growth through acquisitions, even though Priceline has gotten so big as a result of organic growth and shrewd purchases that it remains to be seen if Momondo will be enough to move the needle. Priceline will have a lot to say on Monday, and then it will be up to the market to decide if the best course to take is to ascend or descend.

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Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Priceline Group. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.