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Are Travel Stocks a Growth Trap?


Travel sites are a big business, but does that mean they're a smart investment? Here's a look at four big travel stocks so you can decide for yourself.

This article was originally published by

In the middle of summer, most people only want to do one thing: go on vacation.

There has been a proliferation of Internet sites over the last decade to help people do that. You can now get a weekly email newsletter with travel deals, check out reviews from other travelers on hotels, restaurants and attractions, and then book the hotel, airplane tickets and rental car on another site if you wish.

Planning the perfect vacation, and getting it at a discount, is big business. is the King of the travel stocks. It's rise from the ashes of the dot-com era to a $34 billion market cap juggernaut is legendary. But after peaking in April and May of this year at new all-time highs, the stock has pulled back and meandered.

Travelzoo, the travel deal media company, exploded to a new all-time high in 2011, only to sell off more than 80% since then. Shares now sit near the 52-week low.

TripAdvisor, the travel review site, had a magical spin-off from parent Expedia in late 2011. Shares have since fallen back, but if you owned it since the spin-off you're still sitting pretty.

Expedia, one of Priceline's competitors, has also regained its footing in 2012 as shares are again approaching the 2011 high.

Are any of these travel stocks a buy?

Despite pullbacks in share prices, several of these travel stocks are still pretty pricey. None have single digit P/Es. Investors have been willing to pay the premium because of earnings growth. But is that growth still there?

Travelzoo, Inc. (TZOO - Snapshot Report)

In 2011, Travelzoo was the darling of the travel stocks as it soared to over $100, with a sky-high P/E to match. Then the rug was yanked out from under it and the stock has been in a slide ever since.

But with it down 80% from its high, it's time to take another look. In the second quarter, Travelzoo reported that subscriptions rose 6% to 22.1 million. Revenue jumped 5% to $39.4 million. On July 26, it also announced it would repurchase 1 million worth of shares.

Zacks only has one estimate for the company. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2012 is calling for $1.40, which would be earnings growth of 600% as it made just 20 cents in all of 2011. Travelzoo is a Zacks #3 Rank (Hold).

Its P/E has also come down from nose bleed levels to "just" 15.6x. That is more expensive than the S&P 500 which averages 13.5.

TripAdvisor, Inc. (TRIP - Snapshot Report)

TripAdvisor is the addictive travel review site that was spun off from Expedia in late 2011. Many Nervous Nellies asked "where will it get revenue?"

Shares, however, had steadily gained since the spin-off until it reported second quarter results on July 25, which revealed slowing international growth, especially in Europe. Shares plunged nearly 20% on the news.

The stock suddenly looks a lot more interesting.

The analysts are still optimistic on 2012 as 8 estimates have moved higher for the full year in the last 7 days. The Zacks Consensus has jumped to $1.35 from $1.31. But that is earnings growth of just 2% versus the $1.32 it made in 2011.

The company currently has a forward P/E of 26. That P/E doesn't scream "bargain" for a company with just 2% earnings growth. TripAdvisor is a Zacks #3 Rank (Hold).

Expedia, Inc. (EXPE - Analyst Report)

Expedia reported earnings the day after TripAdvisor so investors were nervous. But Expedia beat by 16.9%. Revenue jumped 13.8% year over year. Expedia had an advantage in that 58% of its revenue was generated domestically in the quarter. Domestic revenue climbed 14.3% over last year.

But international was no slouch either. While it also saw slowing in Southern Europe, international revenue increased 13.1%.

Unlike TripAdvisor, Expedia shares soared on the news. But the share gain only meant that the stock got more expensive.

Expedia has a forward P/E of 22.1. This wouldn't put it on any "value" lists. Like TripAdvisor, it doesn't exactly have growth either. Earnings are expected to fall 1.5% in 2012. It's a Zacks #2 Rank (Buy) stock. Inc. (PCLN - Analyst Report)

All eyes are on now. The company is expected to report earnings on Aug 7. It has an excellent track record of surprising on the Zacks Consensus, having done so the last eight quarters.

The stock has recently pulled back off its all-time highs.

Could this be a buying opportunity before earnings come out?

The company isn't cheap. It sports a forward P/E of 23. However, unlike some competitors, earnings per share is expected to rise 33.9% in 2012. This is on the heels of double digit earnings growth in 2009, 2010 and 2011. It has been an earnings growth machine. But how will the European and Chinese slowdowns affect the quarter? We'll soon find out. Stay tuned. is a Zacks #3 Rank (Hold) stock.

Be a picky investor

None of these four travel stocks is a value. But sell-offs in some shares have made several of them more attractive.

They're each profitable. Several are still growing quickly but others are not. Be picky! Don't overpay for growth. However, investors should keep the travel stocks on their radar.

Tracey Ryniec is the Value Stock Strategist for She is also the Editor of the Turnaround Trader and Value Investor services. You can follow her on twitter at @TraceyRyniec.

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