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Expedia Founder Departing

Online travel operation Expedia.com quadrupled its fourth quarter net income to $21 million, or 33 cents a share, and, in a surprise move, said that founder Richard Barton is resigning as president and CEO effective March 31, for personal reasons.

Erik Blachford, currently president of Expedia North America, will succeed Barton as president and CEO and will join the Expedia board of directors.

Barton will become a director at parent company USA Interactive, which acquired Expedia from Microsoft in 2001.

"With our three kids approaching school age, and the company in such a rock-solid position, I feel it is a good time to pursue my long-standing dream to live in Europe for a year," said Barton.

Bellevue, Wash.-based Expedia , which is majority-owned by Barry Diller's USA Interactive , said that quarterly net revenue doubled to $164 million. Quarterly gross bookings were $1.38 billion, up 96 percent year over year. Quarterly profits of $21 million compared to net income of $5 million or 8 cents a diluted share in the year-ago period.

And looking ahead, the company is projecting 2003 revenue growth of 43 percent, to $845 million. USA reports its quarterly earnings on Thursday.

In addition, Expedia, whose stock was up 5.22 percent today to $59.05, also announced authorization for the repurchase of up to $200 million in common stock and the approval of a two-for-one split for every share held on the record date of February 24.

"Results for the full year and for the fourth quarter are strong evidence that our strategy of focusing on the whole trip, rather than a single component, is bearing fruit," said Barton.

Greg Stanger, senior vice president and CFO said that the company's fourth quarter success has continued into 2003 "as we have seen strong bookings momentum through the month of January. This start suggests a strong first quarter. In addition, our corporate travel business, which launched in November, is off to a good start, with more company registrations than we had anticipated."

For the year ended Dec. 31, Expedia reported gross bookings of $5.3 billion, an increase of 82 percent over calendar year 2001. Net revenue nearly doubled year-over-year to $591 million from $297 million. Net income was $66 million, or $1.04 a diluted share, compared with a loss of $21 million, or 43 cents a share for 2001.

The company said its guidance projects GAAP earnings per share of $1.76 for all of 2003.

Meanwhile, USA's discount lodging site, Dallas-based Hotels.com , reported fourth-quarter profits of $17.7 million, or 30 cents per share, up from $4.8 million, or 8 cents, in the year-earlier quarter. Revenue rose 92 percent to $272.6 million.

Hotels.com President Bob Diener said that travel research indicates that about 20 percent of all U.S. hotel rooms will be booked online by the year 2005, more than double the proportion booked online in 2002.