Panoramic View of Chinese Travel Plays

Shares of Home Inns & Hotels (Nasdaq: HMIN  ) and eLong (Nasdaq: LONG  ) opened lower this morning, after the companies posted their quarterly results.

The reports aren't as bad as the drops in price suggest. Still, let's see where the financials strayed with these two travel-related China plays.

We'll start with Home Inns & Hotels. The fast-growing chain of economically priced hotels delivered market-thumping results. Revenue climbed 30% to $102.4 million, and earnings per share were $0.21 -- or $0.26 on an adjusted basis.

Analysts weren't even close, targeting a profit of $0.19 a share on $94.8 million in revenue. A dramatic spike in year-over-year occupancy -- from 84.1% to 92.9% -- helped offset a decline in nightly rates, driving revenue per available room 6% higher to $21.83 a night. Yes, lodging is that cheap at Home Inns. As per-capita incomes grow in the world's most populous country, one can expect rates to move higher.

Home Inns closed out 2009 with 616 hotels, 145 more than it started. It's expecting to add another 180 to 200 new hotels this year, but here's where we get to Mr. Market's disappointment. Most of the company-operated additions will take place in the second half of the year, clamping top-line growth. Home Inns is targeting 18% to 22% revenue growth this year. Analysts were projecting a 25% increase to $450.3 million, from the $359.4 million it rang up in 2009.

Are investors fickle enough to mark down a great quarter on the basis of a slightly weaker revenue outlook? Yep -- but they're missing the point. Leased and operated units may be huge top-line contributors, but let's not dismiss the high-margin beauty of franchised and managed locations, which have a bigger impact on the bottom line than the top line. With franchised openings stacked toward the second half of the year, earnings may be stronger than the revenue guidance suggests.

Meanwhile, travel portal eLong toils in the long shadow of market darling Ctrip.com (Nasdaq: CTRP  ) . But its emergence as a profitable dot-com, after posting positive earnings in each of the four past quarters, deserves some respect.

Revenue for the quarter climbed 18% to $15.7 million. It may not be growing as fast as Ctrip -- or even priceline.com (Nasdaq: PCLN  ) -- but eLong is clearly moving in the right direction. Earnings, weighed down by an unusually large tax hit, were just shy of $0.01 per American depositary share. It's true that eLong wouldn't have hit Wall Street's $0.03-per-ADS mark, but let's bring up eLong's balance sheet in its defense.

eLong closed the year with $139.6 million in cash and short-term investments. That's whopping $5.47 per ADS. In other words, a little more than half of its share price is backed by a money mattress.

Maybe that's why logic stepped in after the stock traded as much as 15% lower this morning, at $9.38. Value hunters working the balance-sheet math -- or growth investors forgiving the bottom-line miss after eyeing the increase in the top line -- came in with their buy orders.

There's growth waiting in China's travel plays. Even airport advertiser AirMedia (Nasdaq: AMCN  ) reported record revenue levels for its latest quarter earlier this week. These companies' reports won't be perfect, but there's more to applaud than the market thinks.

Is Chinese travel a sector worth buying into? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

priceline.com is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice and Ctrip.com International is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. If you want to know why, the 30-day trial is free.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been a fan of China's high-margin stocks for a long time. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy, and it leaves mints on your pillow during turndown service.


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  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2010, at 4:11 PM, FTCDauer wrote:

    Good article. the reason that the market is not recognizing Elong is that the company had not won the hearts or trust of the chinese consumer. In fact almost the opposite as Elong haa purchased revenue in the past and has little penetration outside beijing. Growth rates also pare in comparison.

    ELong badly need a true chinese partner and a rebranding if they are to be long term playes in the chinese market.

    Check out a private copmany called Hubs1, they have the thrird largest market share in china, they are the official provider of reservations for the Worls Expo in Shnghai, have pletiful invetory, are backed by chinese investors and governement, and have a technology advantage over E-long's manual processes.

    If i was able, I would put my money into Hubs1 and short E-long for the long term.

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