It's apparently good to be called the Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) of China.
E-Commerce China Dangdang (Nasdaq: DANG ) rocketed in its Wall Street debut yesterday. China's leading online bookseller was initially expected to price its offering between $13 and $15 a share. It was able to price at $16, but opened at $24.50 and closed at a whopping $29.91.
The company's dangdang.com website had 6 million active customers last year, and this year is drawing an average of 1.2 million unique visitors a day. It stocks 590,000 different book titles, and it's gradually expanding into new product categories. Yes, this seems a lot like the Amazon.com playbook circa the late 1990s -- and unfortunately that comparison bleeds over into Dangdang's financials.
Unlike Youku.com (Nasdaq: YOKU ) -- the Chinese video-sharing site that soared in its debut alongside Dangdang yesterday -- the Web-based retailer is profitable, but not by much.
After posting losses in 2007 and 2008, Dangdang earned a profit of $2.5 million on $217.9 million in net revenue. Through the first nine months of 2010, net revenue has climbed 56% to $234.8 million, with net income clocking in at a mere $2.4 million.
Did you catch those pathetic net margins? Just 1% of Dangdang's revenue is making it all of the way down to the bottom line. That's pathetic.
Investors that are spoiled by China's dot-com sprinters Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU ) , Netease.com (Nasdaq: NTES ) , and Changyou.com (Nasdaq: CYOU ) sporting net margins north of 40% are supposed to put up with 1% in net margins? Yes, these examples are delivering data. The bottom line takes its lumps when there's physical products and fulfillment involved, but even Shanghai's disappointing Mecox Lane (Nasdaq: LANE ) -- a Web-based retailer that has seen its stock slammed since October's IPO -- is cranking out better net margins.
Dot-com history buffs will point out that Amazon's margins were horrendous when it was at this point in its life cycle. Even now, Amazon's net margins of roughly 4% are nothing to write home about. However, the best Chinese companies are the ones sporting healthier margins than their stateside rivals at any point in their timeline.
Dangdang bears watching because it is already the category killer in Web-based books. It will face competition as it broadens its offerings, including from Amazon itself after its 2004 acquisition of Joyo. However, one can also hope that margins will also expand as Dangdang grows and Chinese media items begin having the same digital transformation that we've been seeing domestically in recent years.
Don't chase Dangdang at this point. It still has a lot to prove. It would also be a mistake to dismiss it entirely.
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