This article was originally published on June 17, 2017, and updated on April 6, 2018.
The bull market might be nine years old, but the "FANG stocks" -- Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Alphabet's Google -- continue to outperform the S&P 500, which rose 12% over the past 12 months. Facebook rose 13%, Amazon climbed almost 60%, Netflix more than doubled, and Alphabet rallied 20%.
It might be tempting to chase those rallies, 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 (OTC:TCEHY) -- which form the core of China's growing internet market.
Baidu, commonly called the "Google of China," controls about 70% of the country's search market and handles over three 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 nearly 30% over the past 12 months, as previous concerns about its sales growth and rising expenses waned. Those concerns stemmed from a regulatory probe regarding its advertising practices in 2016, and rising costs from the expansion of its ecosystem in 2017.
Analysts expect Baidu to post 17% sales growth this year, but for its earnings to still dip 8% this year. However, its earnings will likely come in higher than expected, thanks to its recent spin-off of its video streaming site iQiyi (NASDAQ:IQ).
Looking ahead, Baidu is still 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. It's also been investing heavily in next-gen technologies like artificial intelligence and driverless cars to expand its ecosystem.
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's stock surged nearly 60% over the past 12 months thanks to impressive top- and bottom-line growth after its IPO last June. Its revenue rose 56% annually in fiscal 2017, as triple-digit gains in cloud computing and digital media complemented the high double-digit growth of its marketplace business, and analysts anticipate 56% growth this year. The company also recently reported record Singles' Day (China's equivalent of Black Friday) sales of over $25 billion last November.
Alibaba's net income fell 42% last year due to higher investments in the expansion of its digital ecosystem, but its adjusted earnings are expected to rebound 42% this year as those investments pay off.
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 989 million monthly active users (MAUs), its older QQ messaging app reached 783 million MAUs, and its Qzone social network had 563 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 esports favorite League of Legends and the mobile hits Honor of Kings and Clash of Clans.
Tencent's stock has surged nearly 80% 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 hit Chinese games like Honor of Kings and Dragon Nest Mobile are holding its domestic rivals at bay.
Tencent's revenue and earnings respectively rose 56% and 75% in fiscal 2017. Looking ahead, analysts expect its revenue to rise another 42% and for its earnings to climb 16% this year -- which are solid growth figures for a 19-year-old company.
Should you buy any of the BAT stocks today?
The recent jitters about a trade war between the US and China have caused the BAT stocks to drop to fairly reasonably valuations. Baidu and Alibaba both trade at 24 times forward earnings, while Tencent has a forward P/E of 37.
Those multiples aren't in discount territory yet, but Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent 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.