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Vipshop Holdings (NYSE: VIPS ) and Dangdang (NYSE: DANG ) have been two of the best-performing stocks of the last year, having exploded in popularity on the Chinese e-commerce scene. Yet as both companies strive to become the next Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN ) or Alibaba, which has the best outlook going forward?
Flash-selling to greatness
Vipshop is a China-based e-commerce company with extraordinary growth using a flash-sales business model. It has a customer base of 5.7 million users -- up 3.1 million, year over year, in the fourth quarter -- and has the right to sell more than 350 different brands at specific times for bargain prices. Essentially, the deals Vipshop is able to offer keep customers coming back and new customers signing up.
With that said, its stock has soared 575% in the last 12 months, including 45% in the last five sessions following fourth-quarter earnings. In its fourth quarter, revenue grew 117%, to $651 million.
The company provided first-quarter guidance at a midpoint of $645 million, which is much higher than the $554 million consensus. It is this degree of growth that has many believing Vipshop is the next enormous e-commerce company.
An Amazon-like model for growth
Dangdang is also a Chinese e-commerce company, but unlike Vipshop, it sells general merchandise on a platform that is very similar to Amazon's. Chinese companies are known for replicating high-profile, successful U.S. dot-coms. Sometimes it works, such as with Baidu.com replicating Google, and other times it does not, like Renren to Facebook. With Dangdang, its stock has soared 330% in the last year -- 77% in the last week. There are high expectations for the company.
Those expectations are not without good reason. In the company's fourth quarter, it accelerated revenue growth from a 19% clip to 22.1%, year over year. It also grew active customers 18% to 8.9 million -- higher than Vipshop -- and its first-quarter guidance of $282.8 million is far better than expectations of $256.6 million.
Becoming the next e-commerce juggernaut
While we have many reasons to be optimistic for the future of Vipshop and Dangdang, the big question is whether we're talking about the next Amazon, or perhaps just another Overstock.com.
To answer this question, we must first realize that neither company has anywhere near the scale of Amazon, a company with nearly $74.5 billion in revenue over the last 12 months. Moreover, with this size, Amazon maintains a growth rate in excess of 20% annually.
However, back when Amazon was the size of Dangdang or Vipshop, its growth far surpassed 20% annually. But as a company grows larger, its year-over-year growth naturally slows. For example, Wal-Mart in 1992 grew 35% with $43.8 billion in revenue, but now, with nearly $480 billion, that growth has slowed to the rate of GDP.
To find a quarter of similar fundamentals, we'd have to revisit the year 1999, and conveniently also the fourth quarter. In that particular period, Amazon reported revenue of $676 million, and grew 167%. From that point forward, the rest is history, as Amazon has continued to grow, invest in its business, and remains a juggernaut within the space.
Is either the next super e-commerce company?
In trying to identify whether Dangdang or Vipshop has the potential to keep growing and eventually become an Amazon-like force, it should be rather evident that Dangdang does not possess the necessary growth.
With $325.7 million in fourth-quarter revenue, Dangdang is of similar size to Amazon in 1998. In that year, Amazon grew revenue at 312%, which far exceeds the rate of Dangdang. At 1.36 times trailing 12 months sales, Dangdang is not particularly expensive, meaning if it can maintain its current growth rate, then gains will likely continue. However, it would be a far stretch to call Dangdang the next Amazon.
On the other hand, Vipshop's growth and fundamentals are very comparable to Amazon of 1999. Its 145% growth and $1.7 billion in total revenue for 2013 is also comparable to Amazon in 1999. In 2012, 2011, and 2010, Vipshop reported revenue of $692 million, $227 million, and $32.6 million, respectively, also comparable to Amazon.
The bottom line: Vipshop might very well be an early-stage Amazon, but even if not, Vipshop is nowhere close to seeing slowing growth. It has too much growth momentum. While at 5.6 times 2013's sales, it is pricey relative to Amazon, if Vipshop grows to become half the size of Amazon, then there are far larger gains ahead.
Vipshop looks like a company that's firing on all cylinders. And while it shares many of the same characteristics of an early-stage Amazon, profitability might give Vipshop an edge looking ahead.
For example, Vipshop reported net income of $52.3 million for 2013, giving it a net income margin of 3.1% versus negative 1.4% in 2012. This level of efficiency is something Amazon has yet to achieve, and surprisingly, Vipshop has been able to earn these profits while still investing heavily in marketing, logistics, etc. -- the same investments that have prevented Amazon from reaching profitability.
With all things considered, its efficiency, upside, and growth make it more than worthy of its premium, as all signs point to Vipshop becoming a household name in the future -- one with the potential to yield large returns.
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