eBay has been one of the great investing success stories of the past couple decades. It was one of the select few companies that not only survived the dot-com bubble but has since become an incredibly strong company that churns out high rates of return for its investors.
Every investor is trying in one way or another to find the next eBay for his or her portfolio. So we asked three of our contributing investors what stocks they see as having eBay potential from its early days. Here's why they picked TripAdvisor (TRIP 0.39%), SolarEdge Technologies (SEDG -3.32%), and JD.com (JD -1.52%).
Another popular shopping platform
Demitri Kalogeropoulos (TripAdvisor): TripAdvisor owns a thriving platform for internet-based travel shopping. The problem is it hasn't (yet) found a way to use that asset to generate healthy profits. Net income dove 55% in the most recent quarter even as traffic rose 17% across its network of sites and shopping apps -- to over 455 million users.
TripAdvisor is making big changes that executives hope will bring growth back to its core hotel-shopping business in the coming quarters. These include a national advertising campaign and efforts to improve the digital shopping experience. In the meantime, the nonhotel segment is quickly becoming a significant part of the revenue base as the inventory of available attractions, restaurants, and vacation rentals grows.
Management has misjudged the strength of their market in recent quarters, and its even more concerning that the reasons they've cited for those misses keep changing. CEO Steve Kaufer blamed a surprise shift toward mobile browsing in the fiscal second quarter before calling out declining click-based pricing in the following quarter.
Still, like eBay did in its early days, TripAdvisor has a solid foothold in a massive market that's likely to grow over the next decade. If the company can regain its handle on the core hotel segment in 2018, this business could have a much brighter future than its recent stock price performance implies.
Not picking a winner in a massive growth market
Tyler Crowe (SolarEdge Technologies): One thing that made eBay so successful in its earlier stages was that it made e-commerce more accessible for everyone without attaching itself to one single vendor. By providing a platform that so many others could use and charging a fee to use it, it built a high-margin business that cast a wide net in a developing industry.
SolarEdge Technologies shares a lot of characteristics to eBay's business even though they are in wildly different businesses. SolarEdge Technologies suite of products -- power inverters, optimizers, and monitoring software -- are designed to improve solar panel and energy storage performance. On top of the obvious benefits such as 25% more energy delivered and lower operating and maintenance costs, the company's products are panel agnostic. By not attaching itself to one solar panel manufacturer -- an extremely competitive business where new panel technology can quickly be commoditized -- SolarEdge provides a product that can be applied to all solar installations and benefit from the broad trend of more solar panel installations.
What's even more encouraging is that it is a young public company with a great balance sheet and already generates free cash flow. With sales growing at 40% annually and the stock trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 21 times. SolarEdge Technologies looks like a stock that has a long and prosperous growth runway ahead of it.
The future e-commerce king of China
Steve Symington (JD.com): I hesitate to draw a direct comparison between eBay and JD.com. Sure, both companies are leaders in the burgeoning e-commerce industry. But eBay doesn't take possession of the inventory sold through its marketplace platform, making it more similar to China's $470 billion e-commerce juggernaut, Alibaba (BABA -0.11%). Meanwhile, with its comparatively tiny $65 billion market cap, JD delivers products purchased through its site directly to consumers, making it much more like Amazon.com (AMZN 0.47%) in these early stages.
And though eBay has delivered life-changing gains for investors since its own 1998 IPO, we can't forget what happened over the past 15 years or so -- both from a share price and market cap standpoint -- as Amazon continued to scale and began to enjoy the fruits of its more direct model.
For investors willing to buy now and watch its story play out in the coming years -- and keeping in mind that at over 1.4 billion people, China's population is more than four times that of the United States -- I think that's exactly where JD.com sits today.