Shares of Priceline Group Inc. rallied 6.9% in premarket trade Thursday, after the online travel service company's better-than-expected fourth-quarter results and new stock buyback program offset a downbeat first-quarter profit outlook. For the quarter ended Dec. 31, net earnings rose to $452 million, or $8.56 a share, from $378 million, or $7.14 a share, in the same period a year ago. Excluding non-recurring items, adjusted earnings per share were $10.85, beating the FactSet consensus estimate of $10.10. Revenue rose to $1.84 billion from $1.54 billion, above analyst forecasts of $1.8 billion, as better-than-expected agency and adverstising and other revenue offset a slight miss in merchant services revenue. Travel bookings climbed 17% to $10.7 billion. For the first quarter, Priceline said it expects adjusted EPS of $7.20 to $7.75, which is below analyst forecasts of $8.39. The company said it was adding an addtional $3 billion to its stock repurchase program. "We believe that buying our stock is a wise investment of our capital and demonstrates our confidence in the long-term outlook for our business," said Chief Executive Darren Huston. The stock has lost 2.9% over the past three months through Wednesday, while the S&P 500 has gained 2.5%.
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