There are plenty of ways to play China's growth these days.
- An employment boom in the world's most populous nation has served 51job (Nasdaq: JOBS ) , a leading online recruiter with a weekly print component, well in recent months.
- Consumers with more disposable income have helped breathe new life into advertising platforms. Focus Media (Nasdaq: FMCN ) , a company that just a couple of years ago was set on selling most of its assets to SINA (Nasdaq: SINA ) , has seen its shares pop fivefold since bottoming out early last year.
- High-traffic eatery chain Country Style Cooking (Nasdaq: CCSC ) was able to pull off its IPO two months ago.
Another obvious play is interest in the actual Chinese equities. China Finance Online (Nasdaq: JRJC ) is a logical wager on the country's buoyant equity prices, with 18.5 million registered users across its research sites for investors.
China Finance posted mixed results last night. On the one hand, it reversed a year-ago loss with a profit of $0.06 per American depository share. Analysts were braced for a small loss. The number of active paid subscribers climbed 29% over the past year to 144,600. Subscription revenue -- primarily from individual investors and to a lesser extent from institutional accounts -- accounts for 82% of China Finance's business. Unfortunately, subscribers aren't paying as much as they used to, since net revenue of $14.4 million for the quarter is actually slightly below last year's tally. The third quarter's top line is also a sequential dip, though China Finance's premium subscriber base continues to grow.
Thankfully, China Finance has $104.2 million -- or nearly $5 per ADS -- in cash and equivalents. China Finance's guidance for all of 2010 is also encouraging. It expects to generate $6 million in adjusted net income on more than $59 million in net revenue. Three months ago, China Finance's guidance called for adjusted profitability of $4 million on $56 million to $62 million in net revenue. Hitting the midpoint of its earlier top-line target while boosting its earnings outlook is encouraging, though it still leaves open the possibility of another sequential dip in net revenue.
China Finance's considerable cash mattress should limit the stock's downside as it meanders in the single digits. This is also the third consecutive profitable quarter, so it appears that the company is over the 2009 hiccup that dragged the stock lower.
Last night's report wasn't perfect, but it's good enough to keep the Web-based investor assistant going as a compelling play on China's economic boom.
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