Analysts Warming to Baidu in 2017 After a Choppy 2016

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Baidu Inc. (NASDAQ: BIDU) had a rough 2016, but things might be looking up as 2017 gets underway. Baidu has now seen two analyst upgrades in two days. Stifel raised the Chinese search giant to Buy from Hold and raised the price target to $220 from $200 on Tuesday, January 10.

What investors might want to care about here is that Baidu has seen more positive analyst calls recently compared to its challenging 2016. Before getting to other fresh analyst calls, it is important to understand what Stifel sees here for the new upside. After all, this new call is within about $1.00 of an adjusted street-high call from competing research firms.

Stifel sees Baidu as likely to show marked improvements in its business and moving beyond the woes of 2016 from medical search challenges. It is expected that more online marketing customers will come back and add to its revenue growth.

Another driver from Stifel’s call is a narrowing of non-GAAP margin loss in the Transaction Services segment. The firm views the aggressive marketing costs as having eased, and there is hope that the iQiyi video unit could reach break-even results by 2018.

24/7 Wall St. has noticed that other analyst calls have become more positive in recent days and weeks — or at a minimum they have been less negative.

On January 9, JPMorgan raised Baidu to Neutral from Underweight and raised the price target to $190 from $159. The prior closing price was $176.38. One of the driving forces here was Baidu’s news feed advertising revenue outlook.

A research group called China Renaissance raised Baidu’s rating to Buy from Hold with a $204 price target on January 3. They viewed the fourth quarter of 2016 as the trough and expect 2017 to be an outperforming year for Baidu. The firm also noted that Baidu’s top-line growth will return to 23% in 2017 from 6% in 2016, and it sees that the adjusted operating margin should rise to 20% in 2017 from 16.3% in 2016.

On December 22, 2016, Baidu was reiterated as Buy with a $188 target at Jefferies. This was over hope of Baidu’s iQiyi reportedly considering an raising $1 billion via a U.S. or Hong Kong listing in 2017 that would value the unit at close to $5 billion.

Around Christmas, Baidu warned that its plans of taking iQiyi public were not true. Whether that holds up in 2017 remains to be seen.

Also, S&P Capital IQ reiterated Baidu as Hold with a $175 target price on January 7. Its prior note warned that it still sees issues as to heightened governmental regulatory efforts and scrutiny on its search results and ads. S&P had also noted that Trump may be less flexible with China trade communications and efforts, and that Baidu was reasonably valued.

Two other items have been in the news since the start of 2017. While Baidu already had been into autonomous cars, it announced a strategic partnership with BAIC to launch cars featuring smart solutions, and it expects to road test the BAIC L3 autonomous driving car by the end of this year. Baidu and CITIC have also been approved to set up China’s first independent direct bank.

With shares up 2.1% at $180.90, the consensus analyst price target from Thomson Reuters is $191.81. That consensus price target was consistently stuck between $188 and $189 for the past three months.

Baidu has a 52-week trading range of $139.61 to $201.00, and its market cap is currently pegged at about $63 billion.