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Motley Fool: Booking profits

Priceline.com, an internet commerce business which attempts to find bargain prices for its customers, is a Booking Holdings property. (Associated Press)
Priceline.com, an internet commerce business which attempts to find bargain prices for its customers, is a Booking Holdings property. (Associated Press)

In 1998, a travel website called Priceline.com debuted, featuring a “Name Your Own Price” service. While many dot-com era startups never reached profitability and failed, Priceline prospered.

Today, it has rebranded itself Booking Holdings (Nasdaq: BKNG), which includes not just Priceline.com but also the Asia-based travel site Agoda, KAYAK, Rentalcars.com, restaurant reservation site OpenTable, and its biggest brand (and smartest purchase), Booking.com.

The business of online travel and accommodations searching and booking has grown huge, and Booking is the world leader – with 2017 revenue of $12.68 billion, up 18 percent over 2016. Management expects its double-digit growth trajectory to continue.

Consolidation within the industry has put a huge portion of the overall online travel business in the hands of just a few companies. Booking Holdings does face challenges, as rising competition has led some to fear that hurdles to further revenue gains could prove difficult to overcome. Yet through smart acquisitions, the company has been able to answer past competitive threats.

With solid economic conditions across much of the globe and a rising interest in travel, the outlook for the industry is bright, and Booking Holdings has established itself as a key growth leader. It’s likely to hold on to that role for years to come and deserves consideration for a berth in your long-term portfolio. (The Motley Fool owns shares of and has recommended Booking Holdings.)

Ask the Fool

Q: I’m thinking of investing in some volatile stocks. Would it be effective to sell them after they go up a bit and then buy them again after they drop, holding them for a few weeks or months at a time? – S.L., Pleasanton, California

A: That’s risky. For best results when trying to build wealth through the stock market, aim to hang on for many years, not weeks. Remember, legendary investor Warren Buffett has said his favorite holding period is “forever,” and that he would be fine if the stock market opened for trading only once a year.

Some stocks will rise relentlessly for a stretch, and if you exited them, you could lose out on a lot of gains while waiting on the sidelines for a dip in price. Also, frequent trading will rack up lots of trading commissions. Even if you’re paying just $5 per trade, trading 20 times a month will cost you $1,200 a year.

Meanwhile, while gains from stocks held more than a year get a lower tax rate (15 percent for most of us), shorter-term gains are taxed at your ordinary income rate, which could top 30 percent. It’s better to invest in companies you believe in, aiming to hang on for years. Otherwise, you’re just guessing.

Q: I want to invest in fast-growing stocks that are priced below $10 per share. Where should I start? – J.C., Gainesville, Florida

A: Don’t focus on a stock’s price. A $5 stock can be worth 50 cents (and may fall to that soon), while a $200 stock can be a bargain that will triple in value over several years. Seek healthy, profitable companies trading for less than their shares are worth, and be patient.

My dumbest investment

My dumbest investment was Apple – yes, one of the world’s most valuable companies. I bought shares of it back when they were trading in the teens, held for several years while the stock moved sideways, and then sold when the stock moved into the $20s.

I had originally bought into the company after my wife gave me an iPod for my birthday – I was so impressed that I thought it would change the world. The shares have split 7-for-1 since then, too. D’oh! – R., online

The Fool responds: Lots of investors have regretted selling their shares of Apple over the years. The company may seem untouchable now, with its recent market value north of $800 billion, but it didn’t always look that way.

Apple was struggling in the 1990s, losing money and with low market share for its computers. The 1997 return of Steve Jobs (who had been ousted in 1985), along with the introduction of the iMac and the iPod in 1998 and 2001, respectively, marked a turnaround. Following the 2007 debut of the iPhone, things really took off.

Since Apple went public on Dec. 12, 1980, its stock has soared more than 42,000 percent. Yet even today, investors don’t fully agree on how well it will perform from here. You can ignore the stock splits, though: They do increase your number of shares, but they decrease the share price proportionately.

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