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Smooth Sailing at Priceline

One of the main concerns that Wall Street has with the online travel industry is the growing competition between travel suppliers and travel agencies such as Expedia. Priceline has sidestepped this issue by avoiding any direct references to its suppliers in its advertisements.

And it's anyone's guess whether Priceline, which at one time was considered a casualty of the late '90s dot-com bust, will continue to outperform larger Internet names like Google (GOOG), Yahoo! (YHOO) and eBay (EBAY).

About 15.9 million shares, or 7% of Priceline's float, are held by short-sellers, who profit when a stock declines. Analysts have an average price target on the stock of about $33, according to Thomson Financial. Six out of the 14 analysts who cover the stock consider it a buy, with the rest rating it a hold. Their reluctance about Priceline may be understandable.

Leisure and unplanned business spending is expected to rise 20% to $78.8 billion this year. That's down from 26% growth last year, according to the travel research firm PhoCusWright, a travel industry research firm. The firm also expects a growing number of consumers to bypass travel sites entirely and make their purchases directly from suppliers.

But Wall Street's cold shoulder to online travel may be warming, thanks to Priceline. Even rival Expedia, which six analysts have downgraded this year, is showing signs of life. Its shares have jumped about 11% since June, helped by a better-than-expected second-quarter earnings report.
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