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Baidu pays price of mobile shift as Q4 revenue disappoints

2015-02-13 10:17 Global Times/Agencies Web Editor: Qin Dexing

Baidu Inc's shift to smartphones has come at a cost: The Chinese Internet firm forecast lower-than-expected revenue growth for the first quarter as its share from less profitable mobile browsing grows at the expense of PC searches.

The US-listed company posted a lower-than-expected 47.5 percent rise in 2014 fourth quarter revenues.

Its revenue forecast of 12.65-13.07 billion yuan ($2-$2.1 billion) for the current quarter came below analysts' average expectations of 13.62 billion yuan.

Baidu operates China's most widely used search engine.

It said that revenue from mobile searches had, for the first time, surpassed that from PCs in December 2014, but the amount advertisers paid per click on mobile devices remained steady at 60 percent of PC rates quarter-on-quarter.

"I wouldn't draw the conclusion that mobile monetization becomes a problem. It's not a problem," said Baidu CFO Jennifer Li Xinzhe, brushing off concerns about revenue growth at a post-results call with analysts.

"We're still on a trajectory of healthy and steady growth and there is a lot of room for us to continue to improve," Li noted.

Baidu said its first-quarter forecast was weighed down because of a few seasonal factors such as the Chinese New Year holidays falling in late February and doing more business on mobile.

Mobile browsing makes less money for search engines because adverts on smartphones are not as effective as PCs at taking a user to a site where they can make a purchase, said Ben Thompson, an analyst at tech analysis site stratechery.com.

"Google's results disappointed for the same reason," he noted.

Baidu's expansion of its mobile services in the world's largest smartphone market is likely to keep squeezing margins, and pit it against bigger rivals Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Operating margins were 26 percent in 2014 compared to 35 percent in 2013, Reuters calculations showed.

Executives flagged a potential jump in 2015 selling, general and administrative expenses of roughly $830 million, mainly from promotional efforts for location-based services known as "online-to-offline" or "O2O."

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