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The world isn't paying attention to China the way it used to. Between the fiscal calamity in Europe and the sense that the economy is improving closer to home, investors seem to have forgotten the upside potential of the world's most populous nation. That's a pity, because the country offers compelling values for those willing to take on its geopolitical risks.
As a fan of the right kind of low-priced stocks, I certainly don't have a problem with the plentitude of Chinese stocks trading for single-digit share prices on U.S. exchanges. I actually see this as an opportunity to hop into China during a market lull. I've assembled five stocks that I find compelling right now.
Universal Travel Group (NYSE: UTA ) -$7.64
Everybody knows Ctrip.com (Nasdaq: CTRP ) , China's popular travel portal. How about a show of hands for those familiar with Universal Travel? The somewhat obscure Chinese booker of tour packages, airline flights, and hotel nights -- through both online sites and a fleet of customer service reps -- has a small yet loyal following. It also commands a top five-star rating in Motley Fool CAPS.
The stock's allure has a lot to do with its attractive valuation. It has been making the most of its fragmented sector, acquiring several smaller agencies. It sees revenue and earnings growing 45% to 55% this year. Obviously, that growth won't be entirely organic, given the company's acquisitive nature.
The lone analyst tracking the company expects Universal Travel to earn $1.41 a share this year, and $1.70 a share in 2011. We'll get a clearer picture when the company reports quarterly results tomorrow, but it's hard not to like this company's chances of taking off, should it land anywhere near Wall Street expectations.
7 Days Group Holdings (NYSE: SVN ) -$9.31
If we take the travel thesis one step deeper, we stumble across value-priced lodging chain 7 Days. The fast-growing hospitality company is hoping to convert as many as 200 hotels this year (with well over a third of those as leased and operated locations, and the balance simply managed properties).
7 Days went public at $11 a share less than six months ago, but the market has turned its back on the promising hotelier. Analysts see 7 Days earning $0.32 a share this year and $0.49 a share come 2011. A year-ahead multiple in the high teens for a hospitality player may not seem like a screaming bargain, but its heady expansion and growth targets make 7 Days an unloved stock worth checking out at this point.
Shanda Games (Nasdaq: GAME ) -$6.28
There was a fair deal of head-scratching when Shanda Interactive (Nasdaq: SNDA ) decided to spin off its bread-and-butter online gaming business. It hasn't gone well. Shanda Interactive was a market darling, but Shanda Games has yet to beat analyst profit estimates in its first two quarters as a stand-alone company.
Happily for Shanda Games investors, the stock currently trades at a ridiculously cheap earnings multiple. The pros see Shanda Games earning $0.72 a share this year, and $0.82 a share next year. There may be challenges to the online gaming industry if China decides to tighten the screws in the sector, but the only thing I like more than growth stocks with single-digit prices is growth stocks with single digit P/E ratios.
China Finance Online (Nasdaq: JRJC ) -$6.88
A high-octane bet on China's stock market, this company operates sites that offer investing research, primarily for individual investors. Sound familiar?
China Finance knows how to draw a crowd, with 14 million registered users across its sites, though its 117,900 premium subscribers deliver most of the company's revenue. Growth and profitability have been erratic over the past year and change, which has hindered the stock's performance.
The upside for patient investors is that China Finance is flush, closing out 2009 with just more than $5 per American Depository Share in cash and equivalents on its balance sheet. As long as it's able to stay marginally profitable and keep its cash pile intact, the stock should have a floor here.
Noah Education (NYSE: NED ) -$3.99
Like Universal Travel, Noah Education sports another five-star rating in Motley Fool CAPS. The interactive educator has been consistently profitable since going public at $14 in 2007, but that clearly hasn't been enough to keep its stock price from shrinking.
Wall Street sees Noah earning $0.39 a share this fiscal year (which ends next month) and $0.52 a share in the year ahead. Noah has actually beaten analysts' bottom-line expectations in five of the past seven quarters, so it hardly has a history of disappointment -- aside from its stock chart.
While a low price doesn't necessarily make a stock cheap, these five candidates might be too much of a bargain to pass up.