Baidu becomes latest tech major to slash outlook on virus fears

A man walks past a sign for Baidu Inc. at the entrance to the Baidu Technology Park in Beijing. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Baidu Inc. predicted revenue may slide as much as 13% this quarter, joining its fellow technology giants in warning about the impact of the deadly coronavirus.

China’s internet search leader forecast a 5% to 13% plunge in sales to between 21 billion yuan ($3 billion) and 22.9 billion yuan in the March quarter, missing an average projection for 23.4 billion yuan. Its U.S.-traded shares slid as much as 1.6% in extended trading.

From Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., the world’s largest corporations have either scaled back on projections or warned of a hit to their operations from Covid-19. Apart from the uncertainty of the outbreak, Baidu has been grappling with a slowing home economy and competition from upstarts like ByteDance Inc. that’ve lured advertisers away and depressed marketing rates. Chief Executive Officer Robin Li said it will take time for the world’s No. 2 economy to recover.

“The return of economic growth will be a long-term issue after the epidemic, but many new opportunities are emerging,” the billionaire founder told employees in an internal memo obtained by Bloomberg.

Certain businesses can thrive despite the epidemic, including online entertainment and education, Li added. Baidu’s Netflix-style unit iQiyi Inc. projected a better-than-expected revenue gain of 2% to 8% this quarter.

“The virus has affected consumer spending, so naturally advertisers will want to postpone their budgets,” said David Dai, a Hong Kong-based analyst with Bernstein.

In recent days, anxiety has mounted about the spread of the virus outside of China, where it originated. But Baidu executives on Friday emphasized they remained upbeat about a gradual return to normality.

“Business activities have started to pick up as people return to work. At Baidu, our employees are gradually returning to the office, applying strict safety measures,” Chief Financial Officer Herman Yu told analysts on a conference call. “We assume businesses across China will do the same, and that our marketing services will pick up at a faster pace into quarter-end.”

Baidu had earlier reported better-than-expected revenue for the quarter ended December, when ad demand stabilized and pressure from competitors eased. To offset stalling growth, it looked to improve its bottom line especially by tightening content costs related to iQiyi. Longer term, the company is investing gains from its core search and news services into divisions like driverless cars and smart speakers.

Baidu’s shares rallied after the company reported preliminary revenue for the December quarter that beat the highest of analysts’ estimates, but that gain’s mostly been erased since the epidemic triggered a broader selloff of Chinese stocks. The company has been surpassed in market value by rivals like Meituan Dianping and NetEase Inc. after shedding more than $11 billion last year.

“For the majority, or probably all of the industries who advertise on us, those kinds of demand don’t disappear — they’re just postponed,” Li said on the call Friday. “If you plan to marry, you’ll still get married. If you plan to buy a car, you’ll still buy a car. If you plan to become prettier, you’ll still go for cosmetic surgery. This kind of demand will come back after the epidemic ends.”

Bloomberg

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.