Baidu warns of big hit from coronavirus outbreak

BEIJING (AFP) – Internet search giant Baidu has warned the deadly coronavirus outbreak could drive revenues down in the first quarter, as it reported steady annual revenue growth.

The Beijing-based group has forecast a plunge of between five per cent and 13 per cent due to the economic uncertainty surrounding the new virus, which is rapidly spreading around the world.

It is forecasting revenues between CNY21.0 billion (USD3 billion) and CNY22.9 billion in the first three months of the year.

“The coronavirus situation in China is evolving, and business visibility is very limited,” the firm said in its statement, adding that the outlook was “subject to substantial uncertainty”.

The group’s total revenues for the year ended December 31 rose five per cent to CNY107.4 billion (USD15.43 billion), with income during October-December rising six per cent on-year.

Considered China’s answer to Google, Baidu has traditionally relied on advertising for much of its revenue.

But the ad sector is particularly vulnerable to economic slowdowns, and Baidu has had to battle with popular start-ups such as Bytedance.

Baidu’s online marketing revenues were CNY78.1 billion for the year – a drop of five per cent.

Chairman Robin Li said the company had made “tremendous progress in strengthening Baidu’s mobile ecosystem”.