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Was former Priceline Group CEO Darren Huston’s signature $2.6 billion acquisition of dining reservations platform OpenTable a big misstep for the company?
While it’s way too early to issue a long-term verdict on the wisdom of the deal, OpenTable’s struggles adversely impacted the Priceline Group’s third quarter net income as the Group took a $941 million non-cash impairment charge against OpenTable’s goodwill, and announced that it was ratcheting back the pace of OpenTable’s growth.
“This change in strategy resulted in OpenTable’s updating its forecasted financial results to reflect a material reduction in forecasted long-term financial results from these initiatives,” according to the Priceline Group’s earnings announcement. “While OpenTable will continue to pursue these growth opportunities, they will do so on a more measured and deliberate basis.”
With the OpenTable impairment charge, the Priceline Group saw its third quarter net income fall 58 percent to $506 million. But the company’s non-GAAP net income of $31.18 net income per diluted share, a 23 percent year over year increase, beat analysts’ expectations.
Priceline Group interim-CEO Jeffery Boyd said during the company’s third quarter earnings call Monday that OpenTable notched earnings growth in the quarter based on cost discipline and growth in the number of diners serviced. He said OpenTable would continue to see investment in building its inventory, its cloud-based tools for restaurants, and new product development, particularly for casual dining — albeit with a new strategy of growth at a slower pace.
“We remain enthusiastic about the long-term prospects for OpenTable, ” Boyd said.
There wasn’t any discussion during the call as to whether OpenTable’s problems were because of protracted problems in updating its platform, competition from TripAdvisor’s The Fork dining platform and those of other competitors, or other festering issues in growing internationally.
The fact that OpenTable is having growth issues doesn’t necessarily mean the Priceline Group erred in acquiring the company, although one can certainly make the argument that the Priceline Group might overpaid for OpenTable.
While OpenTable seemingly won’t be the growth-driver that some initially anticipated, there is certainly an opportunity in dining and local activities for travelers and locals as mobile usage proliferates.
TripAdvisor, for example, keeps investing in and acquiring dining platforms — albeit at more modest sums that Priceline paid for OpenTable.