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Priceline Blows Away Estimates

The company swings to a big gain in the first quarter as a result of a jump in travel bookings.
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blew past first-quarter estimates, with its results boosted by an increase in gross travel bookings.

The online travel provider posted earnings of $18.2 million, or 37 cents a share, in the first quarter. That compared to a loss of $16.3 million, or 44 cents, a year ago, primarily due to one-time litigation.

Pro-forma earnings totaled $37.3 million, or 76 cents a share, which was well above Wall Street estimates of 60 cents a share.

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First-quarter revenue for Priceline was $403.2 million, up from $301.3 million a year ago. That was well above analysts' revenue expectations of $377 million.

Priceline Chief Executive Jeffrey Boyd noted that domestically, the company saw its highest growth quarter in three years, with gross travel bookings up 51%. The U.S. business got a lift from an 83% growth in airline ticket sales.

"With economic pressures mounting as we entered 2008, we believe that our money-saving Name Your Own Price services and our value brand positioning made attractive to budget-conscious travelers," Boyd said in a statement.

Gross travel bookings for the first quarter, which refers to the total dollar value, inclusive of all taxes and fees, of all travel services purchased by consumers, rose 76% to $1.76 billion from a year ago.

For the full year, Priceline expects to generate $7.5 billion to $7.9 billion in gross travel bookings and earn $3.50 a share to $3.90 a share. Pro-forma earnings for the year are expected to be $5.25 a share to $5.65 a share. Analysts had expected full year earnings of $5.11 a share.

For the second quarter, Priceline expects to earn 80 cents a share to 95 cents a share. Pro-forma earnings are expected to be $1.25 and $1.40. Analysts expect second-quarter earnings of $1.29.

Shares of Priceline were up 13.6%, or $16.83, to $140.61 in after-hours trading.