Shares of Booking Holdings, the company that owns online travel agent Priceline, have fallen more than 7 percent since last week when executives gave a weak forecast for third-quarter earnings. CNBC's Jim Cramer explained why this once best-of-breed stock, which also owns Booking.com, KAYAK and RentalCars.com, has taken a turn for the worst.
Cramer pinpoints last August as when the company started showing its first signs of trouble, reporting a bookings shortage in the second quarter along with a conservative forecast for the third quarter.
Then last November, CEO Glenn Fogel announced that the company was shifting its marketing focus from online platforms such as Google, which it found too expensive, to television. He admitted that the company's growth would likely suffer in the short term as a result, but the stock continued to rally into 2018.
"In short, the earlier slowdown seemed to be abating and the big headwind everyone was worried about—a possibly misspent marketing budget—looked like a nothing-burger," the "Mad Money" host said.
However, last week's earnings report proved otherwise. With rival Expedia rallying on strong earnings numbers the week prior, "Booking Holdings needed to prove itself," said Cramer. Instead it issued a tepid forecast for the third quarter, a particularly important time for travel companies as it includes the end of the summer, a popular vacation period.
The company's slowing growth can be traced back to its decision to restructure its marketing budget. The CEO even acknowledged that the company decreased its online advertising without scaling up TV advertising fast enough.
Now, Booking Holdings is facing an identity crisis, according to Cramer. The company "doesn't know if it's a growth stock or a value stock," since they chose to sacrifice growth to boost profits by reallocating their marketing dollars. From an investor's perspective, growth stocks trade at higher prices relative to earnings estimates. "That's why Expedia sells for 21 times next year's earnings estimates and Booking sells for less than 19 times next year's numbers," the "Mad Money" host said.
Cramer's bottom line? As long as Booking Holdings can't decide what type of stock it wants to be, high-performing Expedia is a better option because it has "a growth story that's very easy for investors to understand."