China's 1.4 billion population and rapidly growing $11 trillion economy can provide investors with fertile ground from which to grow a fortune -- if you know where to look.
The challenge, of course, is identifying the best stocks within this massive market -- those that possess both dominant competitive positions and massive untapped market opportunities. Fortunately, we can invest in one such business today. Read on to learn more about it.
The $350 billion Alibaba Group (NYSE:BABA) is one of the most powerful companies in the world. Yet among U.S. investors, the Chinese internet behemoth remains relatively unknown.
A wide moat
With a mission "to make it easy to do business anywhere," Alibaba dominates Chinese commerce, with an estimated 11% share of China's $5 trillion retail market, based on its gross merchandise volume (the amount of goods and services purchased on its platform, or GMV). Alibaba has even grander ambitions, however. Chairman and co-founder Jack Ma says the 18-year-old giant is "still a baby," as Ma envisions a future in which Alibaba becomes an economy unto itself that serves 2 billion consumers around the world. It's certainly a bold goal, but not one that's entirely unreasonable considering Alibaba already has 500 million customers in China alone.
Alibaba Group's empire spans across a collection of leading wholesale and retail online marketplaces, as well as cloud computing, digital media, and entertainment businesses, among others. Notably, Alibaba's Taobao Marketplace is the No. 1 e-commerce app in China as measured by mobile monthly active users, and its Tmall.com is the No. 1 business-to-consumer site in China by market share.
Its cloud computing business also holds a commanding lead in its home market. In fact, Alibaba's share of the cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) in China is estimated to be more than 40%, and its 2016 IaaS revenue was equivalent to that of its seven closest competitors combined.
The art of Go
Alibaba's competitive moat and growth prospects are further strengthened by its strategic investments. During the company's recent investor day, Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai likened Alibaba's merger and acquisition philosophy to the Chinese game of Go, in which players compete to surround the most territory. To this end, the company has invested $21 billion over the last two years in areas such as digital entertainment, social media, logistics, and online-to-offline (O2O) services. These investments include Alibaba's acquisition of Youku -- one of China's top online video streaming service platforms -- and it's increased, to 31.5%, stake in popular Chinese short-form messaging app Weibo Corp. (NASDAQ:WB).
Alibaba's acquisition strategy has also allowed it to expand its core commerce operations into new high-growth markets. For example, its recent purchase of Lazada Group -- Southeast Asia's largest e-commerce site -- helped Alibaba advance its beachhead into fast-growing markets such as Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The impact of these investments -- as well as Alibaba's dominant competitive positioning -- can be seen in its financial results. In fiscal 2017, revenue surged 45% year over year, to $19.5 billion, in Alibaba's core commerce segment; 121%, to $968 million, in its cloud computing business; and 271%, to $2.1 billion, in its digital media and entertainment division. All told, revenue soared 56% to $23 billion and adjusted earnings per share leapt 40% to $3.41. These are outstanding growth figures for any company -- and especially for one the size of Alibaba.
Incredibly, management projects Alibaba's revenue to continue to rise at a torrid pace in the year ahead, to the tune of 45% to 49% in fiscal 2018. Looking out even further, Alibaba believes it can achieve $1 trillion in GMV by 2020, up from $547 billion in fiscal 2017.
An attractive price
For such a competitively advantaged and rapidly growing business, Alibaba's stock is surprisingly inexpensive. Shares are currently trading at about 30 times analysts' estimates for fiscal 2018 and 23 times their projections for 2019. For a business that could very possibly deliver earnings growth of 50% or more in the year ahead, Alibaba's current price tag represents quite a bargain.
Alibaba is perhaps the best China stock for investors seeking a high-quality business with a wide competitive moat, proven operational success, and long runways for growth. Thus, investors who buy today should be well rewarded over the years -- and potentially, decades -- to come.