Beijing - Chinese web search giant Baidu said on Wednesday it expected to benefit from growing customer confidence after Google's threat to pull out of China, as it posted a 48 percent surge in quarterly earnings.

The Nasdaq-listed Baidu said net profit rose 48,2 percent in the fourth quarter to $62,7-million (about R439-million) while revenue increased 39,8 percent to $184,7-million.

For the fiscal year which ended on December 31, the Beijing-based company reported revenue of $651,6-million, up 39,1 percent from 2008, and a net profit of $217,6-million, an increase of 41,7 percent over 2008.

Earnings per share of $1,80 and fourth-quarter revenue of nearly $185-million both came in higher than expected by Wall Street analysts, who had forecast $1,68 and revenue of $180-million, respectively.

"We have not factored in any potential material change in the competitive landscape," Baidu chairman and chief executive Robin Li said in a conference call on the results Wednesday, while not mentioning Google by name.

"But what we have seen in the market is that our customers' and partners' confidence level in Baidu is certainly higher - we think we would benefit from that," he added.

Baidu predicted its 2010 first quarter revenue would rise to 176-181 million dollars, an on-year increase of up to 52 percent.

The company said it planned to accelerate hiring this year, to boost its already 4 400-strong sales force.

"With a solid base of users and customers, our foundation is stronger than ever and we will continue to drive innovation to capture market opportunities ahead," Li said.

Baidu said it had about 223 000 active online marketing customers in the fourth quarter of 2009, an increase of 13,2 percent from a year ago.

Baidu accounted for 58,4 percent of China's search engine market in the final quarter of last year, followed by 35,6 percent for Google China, according to Internet research firm Analysys International.

The company could stand to increase its share further if Google opts to shut down its Chinese-language search engine, google.cn, over its refusal to continue to censor Web results.

Google said last month that it may abandon Google.cn and possibly leave the country altogether over what it called "highly sophisticated" cyberattacks by China-based hackers. - Sapa-AFP