The bull market might be eight years old, but the "FANG stocks" -- Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Alphabet's Google -- continue to outperform the S&P 500, which rose 16% over the past 12 months. Facebook, Amazon, and Alphabet rallied over 30% during that period, while Netflix surged more than 60%.
It might be tempting to chase these stocks at their record highs, but growth investors can also consider investing in China's equivalent of FANG, the so-called "BAT stocks" -- Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU), Alibaba (NYSE:BABA), and Tencent (NASDAQOTH:TCEHY) -- which form the core of China's growing internet market.
Baidu, commonly called the "Google of China," controls about 80% of the country's search market and handles about 3.3 billion searches per day. The company benefited from Google's exit from the Chinese market in 2010, and has since expanded its ecosystem with a wide range of portals and cloud-based apps.
Shares of Baidu rose just 8% over the past 12 months due to ongoing concerns about its sales growth and rising expenses. In particular, a regulatory probe regarding its advertising practices last year resulted in many healthcare-related ads being pulled from its site. That blow, along with Baidu swapping its stake in online travel agency Qunar for a comparable stake in its rival Ctrip, caused its revenue to rise just 6% in 2016 -- compared to 35% growth in 2015.
Meanwhile, Baidu has been increasing its investments in O2O (online-to-offline) services to counter Tencent's WeChat, a mobile messaging app which has become a dominant mini-platform for deliveries, payments, games, and other services. Those aggressive investments caused Baidu's earnings to decline 17% last year. But looking ahead, analysts expect Baidu's revenue and earnings to respectively rise 21% and 47% this year as it moves past those challenges.
Alibaba is often called the "Amazon of China," but it actually resembles both Amazon and eBay. Its Tmall marketplace uses the same B2C (business-to-consumer) model as Amazon, but its Taobao marketplace runs on a C2C (consumer-to-consumer) model like eBay. Tmall controls over half of the B2C market in China, and Taobao controls over 90% of the C2C market. Those two platforms enable Alibaba to control over 80% of the entire e-commerce market in China. Like Amazon, Alibaba is also investing heavily in cloud platforms and digital media to evolve into a diversified tech giant.
Alibaba rallied 80% over the past 12 months thanks to a streak of impressive top- and bottom-line growth after its IPO last June. Its revenue rose 60% annually in fiscal 2016, and analysts anticipate 42% growth this year.
However, that growth was partly overshadowed by a recent SEC probe into the sales figures from its annual "Singles Day" shopping event, as well as constant questions about the river of counterfeit goods which flow through its marketplaces. Despite those headwinds, Alibaba's earnings grew 40% in 2016, and are expected to rise another 32% this year.
Tencent is often compared to Facebook, since its mobile messaging apps dominate the country's social networking market. Last quarter, its flagship app WeChat hit 938 million monthly active users (MAUs), its older QQ messaging app reached 678 million MAUs, and its Qzone social network had 632 million MAUs.
But that's not all -- Tencent is also the biggest video game publisher in the world, and its portfolio of blockbuster games include e-sport favorite League of Legends and the mobile hit Clash of Clans.
Tencent's stock has surged nearly 60% over the past 12 months, fueled by robust growth across its social networking and gaming businesses. The growth of WeChat as an all-in-one "super app" is making it a top stop for internet advertisers (much to Baidu's chagrin), while new Chinese games like Honor of Kings and Dragon Nest Mobile are holding its domestic rivals at bay.
Tencent's revenue and earnings respectively rose 48% and 42% in 2016. Looking ahead, analysts expect its revenue to rise another 47% and for its earnings to climb 43% -- which are incredible growth figures for an 18-year-old company.
Should you buy any of the BAT stocks today?
The BAT stocks, like the FANG stocks, aren't fundamentally cheap. Baidu trades at 39 times earnings, Alibaba trades at 62 times earnings, and Tencent has a P/E of 49. But those premiums could be justified, since the three companies respectively lead the search, e-commerce, and social markets in China. China's internet penetration rate is still at 52% -- compared to 89% in the U.S -- indicating that all three companies could have plenty of room to grow.
However, investors should be aware of the risks that the BAT stocks also face. Tighter regulations on internet content could throttle their growth, a slowdown in China's domestic economy could reduce ad budgets, and pricey attempts to expand their ecosystems could hurt their bottom line growth. But if you believe that the potential rewards outweigh these risks, you should consider adding the BAT stocks to your portfolio.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Leo Sun owns shares of Amazon, Tencent, and Baidu. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Baidu, eBay, Facebook, and Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends Ctrip.com International. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.