Expedia declines as its 4th-quarter results fall short of Wall Street's expectations

MarketsAssociated Press

Expedia's stock slumped Friday as the costs of the travel's sites ambitious growth plans became clear.

Cowen & Co. pointed out that total sales and marketing expenses rose 29 percent during the most recent quarter, while the company posted 19 percent gross profit growth.

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Expedia is trying to take advantage of increasing travel in China, and it told investors that spending would continue to rise for sales and marketing at its eLong Inc. operations there.

Late Thursday, Expedia reported fourth-quarter net income slid from around $95 million in the fourth quarter last year, to $66 million this year.

The Bellevue, Washington, company reported an adjusted profit of 86 cents per share, well short of the $1 that Wall Street expected, according to a poll by Zacks Investment Research.

The strong dollar was a significant headwind as the company expands globally.

Expedia announced in January that it was buying Travelocity for $280 million, months after saying that it would spend $658 million on Australia's Wotif.com Holdings Ltd. Wotif provides Expedia with a broader entry into the Asia-Pacific region.

Fourth-quarter gross bookings did increase 24 percent, the company said, and revenue increased 18 percent year-over-year.

Yet competition is increasing and Expedia must fight even harder to lure travelers.

Brian Fitzgerald of Jefferies & Co. wrote that revenue per room night declined because of discounting, loyalty programs and investments. He said Expedia has been forced to offer discounts and coupons due to competition.

Fitzgerald lowered Expedia's price target to $84 from $89 but maintained his "Hold" rating.

The company has expanded rapidly from its early days in 1996 as a project at Microsoft Corp.

Aside from Travelocity, Expedia Inc. owns Hotels.com, Hotwire and Egencia, the world's fifth-largest corporate travel management company.

Shares of the company fell $8.74, or 9.9 percent, to $79.26.