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Is Weibo Corporation a Buy?

By Anders Bylund – Mar 29, 2018 at 9:39PM

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The Twitter of China is not a cheap stock -- but that's for some very good reasons.

Chinese microblogging company Weibo (WB 1.87%) is often known as the Twitter (TWTR) of China. But unlike its American counterpart, I might actually be tempted to buy Weibo stock right now.

By the numbers

Maybe it would be more fair to call Twitter "The Weibo of the West." Twitter is, after all, the smaller and less successful service in may ways. For example, Weibo sports 392 million active users per month, up 25% from 314 million a year ago. Over the same period, Twitter's monthly user count rose just 12% to 330 million. Not only is Weibo's user base larger, but it also continues to grow much faster.

Weibo's groundswell carries through to its financial statements, too. Trailing sales have more than tripled over the last three years, rising 56% over the last year alone. The company's operating margins stood at 21.5% a year ago, but have now climbed all the way to 35.4%. The bottom line swung from negative to positive in summer 2015 and is now predictably positive -- and growing.

Weibo's logo, a highly stylized chirping bird.

Image source: Weibo.

Digging deeper

Beyond the simple financial success, Weibo is juggling lots of ideas to keep the momentum going.

The namesake microblogging platform's content feeds are already enhanced by artificial intelligence tools, allowing the system to analyze and respond to each user's individual content habits and preferences. That's one way to build user engagement over time based on a positive experience when using the platform. Advertisers love to see this happening -- satisfied users are exposed to more and better-chosen ads, and they're also more likely to spend a longer time on that ad platform.

Other growth drivers for the next couple of years include a popular short-form video service, a number of new or expanded partnerships with other giants of the online experience in China, and deals that put Weibo apps on the home screen of new smartphones, right out of the box. And of course, the network effect and word-of-mouth marketing that follows from a large and highly engaged user base only serves to amplify the effect of these growth boosters.

If you want to learn more about Weibo's current plans, this transcript of Weibo's latest earnings call is required reading.

Worth it?

Weibo shares aren't exactly cheap. The stock is trading at 74 times trailing earnings and 23 times sales today, right up in Wall Street's nosebleed section.

On the other hand, those are growth premiums for a high-performing business, and we already discussed how Weibo is earning its stripes as a skyrocketing business phenom. If you have been looking for a pullback in Weibo's share prices before taking the plunge, I'll note that share prices have fallen 11% over the last month.

We're talking about a thriving growth stock with products and services that tap into the world's largest consumer population -- and has plenty of expansion left before running out of rocket fuel. At the very least, Weibo belongs on any growth investor's watch list for further research.

And that's more than I could say about Twitter.

Anders Bylund has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Twitter. The Motley Fool recommends Weibo. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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