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Can Despegar.com Take Off in 2018?

Rick Munarriz, The Motley Fool

One of last year's quietest IPOs may finally start making some noise this year. UBS analyst Eric Sheridan is upgrading shares of Despegar.com (NYSE: DESP), boosting his rating from neutral to buy. He's sticking to his earlier price target of $36, a testament to a stock that has drifted lower instead of living up to its moniker that means "to take/lift off" in Spanish. 

Despegar went public at $26 in mid-September. Latin America's leading online travel site opened at $29, approaching $35 a few weeks later before falling back to the mid-$20s in early December. It closed out the year at $27.48, a mere 6% return for its IPO investors. In a year full of red-hot and ice-cold debutantes, Despegar was surprisingly lukewarm. It's also surprising that Despegar has been a roundtrip to nowhere given the volatility last year of other online travel specialists. 

Despegar.com's booking engine on a PC.

Image source: Despegar.com.

Buckling those seatbelts 

Sheridan is upgrading Despegar because he sees it benefiting from the improving economic climate and internet penetration trend in Argentina and Brazil. The stock has been drifting lower since peaking in October, giving the investment a more favorable risk profile at current levels. By sticking to his earlier $36 price target, he's implying that the fundamentals haven't veered off course since his initial neutral rating in mid-October when the stock was trading higher. 

Investors have already seen one financial report out of Despegar since going public less than four months ago. It was a mixed performance. Revenue rose 24% to $131.5 million for the third quarter, as a 7% gain in air ticketing sales was propped up by a 42% pop in revenue related to bookings for hotels, packages, and other travel products. Net income went the other way, declining 22% to $11.2 million, or $0.19 a share. Analysts were holding out for a profit of $0.15 a share on $128.9 million, so it did beat expectations on both ends of the income statement.  

The platform's popularity continues to gain traction. Gross bookings rose by 32% in its latest quarter, with the number of transactions rising 25%. 

Latin America is going to have its socioeconomic and inflationary risks, and Despegar itself has had its ups and downs. Revenue dropped 3% in 2016, though it has been able to achieve three quarters of at least 20% top-line growth in 2017. We'll know how it closed out the year when it reports fourth-quarter results next month, but for now, it's encouraging to see one of the Wall Street pros who initiated coverage on the stock three months ago with an uninspiring neutral rating chime in as bullish ahead of the next financial update. 

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Rick Munarriz has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.