Another Sizzling Chinese IPO

CNinsure (Nasdaq: CISG  ) today became the latest Eastern debutante to turn heads on Wall Street. The brokerage company for property, casualty, and life insurance products priced its IPO at $16 last night. It opened 56% higher at $25 this morning.

It could have been an even bigger day. Just two weeks ago, CNinsure's IPO was in the $11 to $13 range.

It's been a good time for established Chinese companies to come to market. China Digital TV (NYSE: STV  ) also went public at $16 earlier this month, and quickly popped to $35. E-House (NYSE: EJ  ) went public two months ago at $13.80, but it trades 157% higher today.

As a real estate agency brokerage, E-House is a distant cousin to CNinsure's insurance stronghold. However, if CNinsure needs validation within its sector, all it has to do is look up -- way up -- to market titan China Life (NYSE: LFC  ) .  

"Take the financial sector," argued a Barron's column over the weekend that was bearish on China. "China Life Insurance has a market value of $245 billion, five times that of MetLife (NYSE: MET  ) or Prudential (NYSE: PRU  ) ."

The flaw in the article's thesis is that it pitted slow-growing domestic coal, energy, steel, and insurance players against their faster-growing brethren in China.

Picking on China Life is like throwing stones at a glass house -- except these windows are made of reinforced, hurricane-resistant glass. China Life has scored a profit of $3.3 billion through the first nine months of the year. If its market cap appears lofty, keep in mind that the company is also holding $117.6 billion in investment assets.

CNinsure is no China Life, though. Through the first six months of the year, CNinsure delivered a profit of just $7.7 million, on $22.7 million in net revenue. Those are healthy margins, but CNinsure is clearly a small fish in a very big insurable ocean. It was only founded in 1999, though it does have an impressive sales force of 11,000 agents in eight developed Chinese provinces.

Thankfully, CNinsure isn't priced like China Life, either. Today's pop is a pure coattail play (on both China and the country's domestic insurance industry), but now it will be up to CNinsure to prove its worth as a stand-alone company.

Differing thoughts on buying into China now:


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