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Last week wasn't a good one for Chinese e-commerce specialists. Dangdang (NYSE: DANG ) and Vipshop (NYSE: VIPS ) saw their shares fall 16% and 13%, respectively, on the week. LightInTheBox (NYSE: LITB ) suffered a 9% slide.
Dangdang triggered the sell-off, warning that it would fall short of its earlier revenue forecast. The online merchant of books and other general merchandise now expects to report sales of $249.8 million to $251.5 million. It was originally targeting the dollar equivalent of $260.4 million.
The silver lining here is that Dangdang claims that this is deliberate. It's doing away with lower-margin merchandise, and it's proving that this is a margin move by offering up a likely loss that will be a substantial year-over-year and sequential improvement. However, between margin improvement and deteriorating sales growth, the market tends to be more concerned about slumping sales than the margins on the new product mix. Then again, that's also assuming that you buy the excuse. Skeptics will argue that this is merely a scapegoat, especially since the sequential improvement in gross margins isn't that impressive.
There were no direct negative news morsels out of Vipshop or LightInTheBox, but this only proves Dangdang's worth as a bellwether. After all, it's not entirely fair to lump Vipshop and LightInTheBox into Dangdang's decision to sell fewer items. The models are entirely different. Vipshop is a flash-sale website, offering deep discounts on apparel items. LightInTheBox may hail from China, but 80% of its sales go out to Europe and the Americas.
Vipshop will be susceptible because it has been one of this year's biggest winners. The stock has soared 274% this year, and that includes last week's swoon. Vipshop should bounce back. The stock may not be cheap at 72 times this year's projected earnings and 36 times next year's target, but the premium is warranted because it is growing even faster than its multiples.
LightInTheBox may as well be the anti-Vipshop. It's actually been a dud since going public earlier this year. The Web-based retailer of apparel and home furnishings crashed after disappointing investors in its first quarter as a public company. You don't bounce back from that right away, and LightInTheBox's ability to make back last week's hit will rest largely on its second quarterly report as a public company next month. LightInTheBox is the cheapest of the three on an earnings basis, with a forward earnings multiple in the teens, but it also has to earn a higher markup.
All three companies will have to claw their way back, but Vipshop is the one with the clearest path to get there. We'll get a clearer snapshot soon, as all three Chinese e-tailers will be posting quarterly results in November.
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