Baidu Tumbles as Chinese Rivals Gain Ground

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Chinese internet search leader Baidu ( BIDU ) looks to be in for a protracted period of weakness as shares have lost more than one-third of their value in the past year.

The company's PC-based revenue growth continues to lose steam due to a slowing economy, growing competition on mobile and PC compounded by the growing popularity of mobile that's cannibalizing PC search queries.

On the PC search-side, aggressive new rival Qihoo ( QIHU )has become a formidable rival, and on the mobile side, a handful of private companies including Tencent have emerged as genuine threats.

Baidu was falling 7.5% to extend its 12-month decline to 36%.

Echo He, an analyst at Maxim Group in New York has a "sell" rating and $75 price target on Baidu on expectations that margins will have to keep on sliding, along with the existing pressures on revenue, as the company pours resources into defending its traditional PC-based source of revenue and accelerating its market share in the increasingly dominant mobile-internet space.

"Its mobile operation is growing faster, but it sounds like it will take some time to be considered significant," said He after Baidu's first-quarter earnings call last night. The multiple mobile initiatives to fortify its position in mobile may take up to two years to come to fruition.

Management reiterated during the company's first-quarter call its commitment to investments in mobile R&D and marketing, cloud services and acquiring smaller companies as it strives to seek new avenues of growth in online and mobile search and online videos. They must also defend their current market share by putting more money into sales and marketing promotions.

"Baidu hasn't done anything wrong," said He. "The market was just different then when it was starting out ," said He. "The market environment has changed."

The Maxim analyst has a "buy" rating and price target of $42 for rival Qihoo. UBS analysts have a "buy" recommendation on the stock as well with a $41 price target.

Baidu reiterated second-quarter revenue expectations earlier this week at a range of $1.187 billion to $1.216 billion, and reported first quarter earnings per ADS of 95 cents on revenue of $961 million in the first quarter from a year ago.

On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters were expecting earnings per ADS of $1.03 on revenue of $969.27 million. Wall Street was forecasting second-quarter revenue of slightly more than $1.2 billion.

After the release, UBS analyst Vey Sern Ling in Hong Kong cut his 2013, 2014 and 2015 earnings expectations for Baidu by 10% and reduced his price target to $126. Ling maintained his "buy" rating on Baidu.

Ling urges investors to look past the company's near-term margin pressure, explaining that long-term search market growth in China remains "intact" and Baidu, given its 80% market share in PC search and 50% market share in mobile search, should remain the primary beneficiary of that.

"Baidu's back-end search technology is its core asset and difficult to replicate," Ling added. "We argue that Baidu's user stickiness comes from its unparalleled capability to deliver the most relevant Chinese search results. We believe this is the reason why 80% of PC users in China choose Baidu when it is completely free to switch to a competitor."

Goldman Sachs analystPiyush Mubayi has a "neutral" rating and $89 price target on the stock explaining that in the near-term, revenues are "unlikely to surprise positively, as mobile monetization is distant, macro conditions do not warrant aggressive pricing inflation ..."

Written by Andrea Tse in New York

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