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Baidu gains on customer surge

BAIDU.COM Inc reported a 31-percent increase in fourth-quarter profit on a surge in the number of online marketing customers.

The Beijing-based company said in a statement early yesterday that net income in the last quarter of 2008 was 288.7 million yuan (US$42.3 million), or 8.31 yuan a share. Its total revenue jumped 58 percent from the year-earlier period to 902 million yuan, but dropped 1.9 percent from the third quarter, the first time since its 2005 listing. The drop was due to removal of misleading search results, which used to contribute to Baidu's pay-for-performance search platform.

Profit for the 2008 fiscal year was 1.0 billion yuan, a jump of 66.6 percent from the previous year. Total revenue in 2008 totaled 3.2 billion yuan, a surge of 83.3 percent from 2007 with over 99 percent of the revenue coming from online marketing. Baidu's online marketing customers rose over 32 percent to more than 284,000 last year.

Baidu handled 109.6 billion Web search requests in the past year and led the domestic search engine market with a 73.2-percent share, up 0.6 percentage point from the previous year, according to latest statistics of iResearch Inc, a Shanghai-based consultancy.

"We'll continue to drive traffic during these difficult economic times," said Robin Li, CEO and chairman of Baidu.

Baidu also projected its revenue for the first quarter of 2009 at between 780 million yuan and 800 million yuan, lower than previous analyst forecasts, as online marketing customers may cut spending and also on the removal of sponsored links from Baidu's search engine.

China has 298 million Web users, according to The 23rd Statistical Report on Internet Development released in January by the China Internet Network Information Center.



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