Unsexy Is the New Sexy in China

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Despite a ho-hum trading day in China yesterday, shares of West China Cement popped 15% higher in its trading debut.

A cement company? Going public? Successfully?

Welcome to China, where even the most humdrum of industries can feature some pretty impressive speedsters.

It's an easy story to rally behind. If you lead the world with a 1.3 billion people and your economy has grown at a roughly 10% annualized clip over the past few years, even the sleep sectors are going to have more than a little pep in their step.

In many cases, fast-growing companies in vanilla bean niches are trading at ridiculously low multiples, giving stateside investors the one-two punch of a growth stock coated in value-stock pricing.

Let me go over a few of these surprising speedsters.

China TransInfo (Nasdaq: CTFO  )
Given our own country's budgetary shortcomings, a provider of public transportation information systems technology would seem like an investing pothole. It's an entirely different matter in China where buying into infrastructure and transportation come with the economic boom.

China TransInfo's latest quarter was a scorcher. Revenue soared 151%. Adjusted earnings grew at a more modest 42% clip.

How much are investors paying up for that kind of heady growth? Not much. China TransInfo clocked in with net income of $0.58 a share last year. Wall Street is targeting a profit of $0.68 a share this year and $1.01 a share come 2011. How can the stock be valued at just six times next year's earnings?

RINO International (Nasdaq: RINO  )
Treating wastewater is a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

China's iron and steel industry relies on RINO for wastewater treatments, flue gas desulphurization, anti-oxidation, and sludge treatment systems.

This may not seem like a scintillating specialty, but RINO's second quarter last week was a beauty. Revenue soared 61%. Operating profit climbed 81%, culminating in earnings of $0.71 a share -- or $0.54 a share after backing out the change in fair value of the company's warrants.

Either way, analysts were only expecting a profit of $0.42 a share. The pros have missed badly over the past year, yet RINO finds itself trading at a mere seven times trailing earnings.

Home Inns & Hotels (Nasdaq: HMIN  )
The hospitality industry is iffy domestically, but it's an easy winner in China. Consumers armed with disposable income are traveling. Corporate travel is also improving as companies expand through China's many regions.

Home Inns provides a room with a view to that trend. Revenue climbed 26% in its latest quarter, fueled by a 16% spike in revenue per available room.

Home Inns doesn't trade at the single-digit earnings multiple that investors are feasting on with RINO or China TransInfo, but it's still a well-positioned growth play on China's booming travel industry.

Value hounds in this space may want to sniff out Universal Travel Group (NYSE: UTA  ) , trading at an insane four times this year's bottom-line target and three times next year's profit target.

Focus Media (Nasdaq: FMCN  )
If there's life after death, Focus Media should know.

The advertising giant seemed to be throwing in the towel when a deal to sell most of its assets to SINA (Nasdaq: SINA  ) fell apart last year. Now it has to make sense of its fleet of billboards, elevator posters, and ad-spewing flat screen monitors in heavily trafficked areas.

It's doing better than you may think. Focus Media posted encouraging quarterly results last night. Revenue soared 27% to $158.2 million. Its adjusted profit of $0.30 a share clocks in ahead of both the $0.22 a share it rang up a year ago and the $0.23 a share that analysts were expecting.

China Digital TV (NYSE: STV  )
Smart cards aren't as glitzy as smartphones, but China Digital's leading the way in this lucrative niche as China ditches analog for digital television come 2015.

China Digital shipped 3.61 million smart cards in its latest quarter, helping revenue increase by 31%, with earnings going along for the ride through a 30% uptick. As more Chinese homes purchase or upgrade their televisions, China Digital will be putting the "smart" in smart cards.

Boring? Sure. Would I buy these five companies before buying their slower -- and more often than not pricier -- stateside counterparts? Absolutely.

Do you own stocks in any "boring" Chinese stocks? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

China Digital TV is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Sina is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz speaks two languages fluently, none of them Mandarin. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article, except for China TransInfo. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (13)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2010, at 1:25 PM, egarl wrote:

    If you want a small cap chinese co. with rapidly growing sales, capy (12m/t in '09, 162mt in '10 and 312 m/t in '2011) in a government supported industry, 70% g/m, $6.53 shr in cash and selling for $14.53, take a look at CHBT.

    This will be one of those small cap wonders that everyone will look back and wonder why they didn't discover it.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 10:01 AM, dontwin wrote:

    A year ago China Digital payed a $1.00 dividend and indicated they intended to do this every other year!

  • Report this Comment On September 16, 2010, at 3:51 PM, IlluminatInvest wrote:

    BORN is another Chinese company that could be considered boring, as it makes corn alcohol. It had its IPO about 6 months ago and has trading at a very low P/E ever since.

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