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The return of William Shatner as
Priceline.com's(PCLN - Get Report) advertising front man may have fans of the ads happy, but he can't get all of the credit for the stellar price performance that this stock has seen for the past few years. Priceline has seen its share price increase by 535% in the last five years, and the trajectory is still pointed higher in 2013; shares are already up 10% year-to-date.
Priceline is one of the world's biggest online travel sites, offering bookings for hotels, airlines, rental cars, and vacation packages such as cruises. Here at home, there aren't many big advantages in travel anymore -- the U.S. travel market is largely commoditized at this point thanks to "lowest price" guarantees with hotels, a phenomenon that effectively means that it doesn't matter where you buy your next trip. But there is a lot more flexibility abroad, particularly in emerging markets in Asia and Latin America. And that's where Priceline has been focusing its attention.
Financially, Priceline is in excellent shape, with $4.6 billion in cash and just $1.45 billion in total debt. The firm's business is light on capital requirements -- PCLN is able to earn huge net margins for its trouble -- so how management decides to part with that cash matters a lot. We'll either want to see acquisitions of mature, established travel outlets overseas or a big value return to shareholders in 2013.