Priceline (PCLN) Buys OpenTable to Kickstart Slowing Growth

pcln - Priceline (PCLN) Buys OpenTable to Kickstart Slowing Growth

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One-stop online shopping for flights, hotels and restaurant reservations makes so much sense, it’s a wonder Priceline (PCLN) didn’t buy OpenTable (OPEN) a long time ago — even if the action in Priceline stock says the acquirer overpaid.

Priceline stock pcln opentableIn the latest sign that the year’s hot mergers and acquisitions market isn’t limited to healthcare stocks, online travel company Priceline is buying restaurant reservation company OpenTable for $2.6 billion.

True, shares in the buyer often sell off on deal news of this sort, but Priceline stock fell more than 2% in morning trades — not an insignificant move for a stock with a market cap of more than $63 billion.

Even more interesting is what happened to OpenTable stock. At one point early in the session, it rallied past $104 a share — or a 48% premium to OPEN stock’s Thursday closing price — when the PCLN deal is for $103, or a 46% premium. That suggests at least someone believes OpenTable is still in play, ripe for another suitor to swoop in.

PCLN Stock – Deals Drive Growth, Growth Drives Outperformance

Either way, this is a deal PCLN is wise to pursue. Priceline stock is up 3.5% for the year-to-date, lagging the S&P 500 by about a percentage point, partly because its brands are fairly mature. Bolt-on acquisitions that can drive growth — especially ones as seemingly seamless as the OpenTable deal — are almost a requirement to drive upside in Priceline stock.

OpenTable seats more than 15 million diners at more than 31,000 restaurants, charging those restaurants a monthly fee. It’s a green field for PCLN, but one in which the company is already comfortable.

As Priceline CEO Darren Huston was quoted on “The kind of work that we do day-to-day is very similar. It’s just a different marketplace.”

Furthermore, as Huston pointed out, OpenTable has ample room for expansion — particularly in international markets — an on mobile devices.

Opentable dining reservations
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Priceline stock might be flagging lately, but longer term, it has been a big outperformer. Indeed, PCLN is up 970% over the last five years. The S&P 500 “only” doubled over the same period.

Of course, Priceline stock only put up those hot gains because of its torrid growth, helped by making acquisitions like and Kayak. With all the other big travel sites mostly spoken for in a saturated market, moving into the restaurant reservation business is a way to keep PCLN’s deal-fueled growth running.

And it’s not like PCLN was the first to have this idea.

Just a month ago, TripAdvisor (TRIP) bought, a European restaurant reservation company, so don’t be surprised if we see a few more industry deals like this in the near future.

As always, whether OpenTable really does help Priceline stock remains to be seen. The usual M&A warnings of culture clashes and oversold synergies apply.

But there’s no doubt Priceline stock depends on the company’s outsized growth, and a seemingly no-brainer acquisition like OpenTable helps deliver it.

As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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