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Ahead of the Bell: Online travel sites  Oct 09, 2008

NEW YORK - Orbitz Worldwide Inc. was downgraded and earnings estimates for online travel competitors Inc. and Expedia Inc. were cut Thursday, as analysts pointed to a weaker travel market and a stronger dollar.

Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson cut his rating on Orbitz to "Sell" from "Neutral," saying travel industry fundamentals weakened in September, particularly on the domestic level.

Orbitz is more concentrated on domestic business than Expedia and Priceline, Olson wrote. He lowered his price target on the shares from $5.50 to $4.

Olson was more positive on Priceline, keeping his "Buy" rating, but lowering his share price target to $83 from $125. He believes the company has the best position of the U.S. online travel companies as the market slows, because 60 percent of its bookings are outside the U.S. and its sales model is attractive to cost-conscious consumers.

Goldman Sachs analysts Jennifer Watson and James Mitchell lowered their 2008, 2009 and 2010 earnings estimates for Priceline because of the stronger dollar and weak travel outlook.

They said Priceline's stock price already takes into account third-quarter results that are likely to miss analyst expectations.

Piper Jaffray's Olson kept a "Neutral" rating on Expedia while cutting his earnings estimates. He also slashed his price target on the stock from $22 to $13.50.

Expedia is improving its exposure to the European market by buying Venere, and generates a large amount of free cash flow, but will be affected by industry fundamentals, he said.

Ahead of the Bell: Online travel sites

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