It's been another tough year for the world's largest country (by population) and second-largest economy. China's growth has hit the skids, and the ongoing trade war with the U.S. hasn't helped matters -- although a truce might be in the cards in the near future.
Investors who have been holding their breath for a U.S.-China agreement could be disappointed, though. Despite the headwinds, plenty of Chinese firms are still growing. Three worth keeping an eye on in December are Baozun (NASDAQ:BZUN), Yum China (NYSE:YUMC), and Momo (NASDAQ:MOMO).
1. Baozun: A global e-commerce partner for the Middle Kingdom
While American firms like Amazon have pioneered the world of digital commerce, in many ways, the U.S. is still far behind China when it comes to technology adoption. E-commerce is one of those areas. Online retail sales are expected to make up only about 12%-13% of all retail in the U.S. in 2020, but in China, that share of all retail is expected to be more than 40%.
There are a number of ways to play China's digital commerce boom, including investments in heavyweights Alibaba and Tencent. But a lesser-known name looks compelling right now. After a third-quarter report card that disappointed investors, Baozun stock is now down nearly 40% from its summer 2019 highs. Losing one large brand partner was the reason for the recent miss, but Baozun still notched a 35% year-over-year increase in revenue and a 15% increase in adjusted earnings per share.
This e-commerce service provider is still very much in growth mode, and other notable metrics to keep an eye on are gross merchandise value (or GMV, the value of all goods it moves for its customers) and brand partners (retailers it works with). In Q3, GMV grew 43% year over year, and the number of brand partners was at 223 compared with 172 at the same time in 2018.
Expectations have been reset, and this stock is now worth keeping a close eye on. Shares are valued at 43.8 times trailing 12-month earnings but just 22.4 times expected one-year forward earnings -- implying analysts think a big surge is coming in the bottom line as Baozun continues to expand its reach into China's massive e-commerce industry. Put simply, this tech stock is beginning to look like a good deal for the growth opportunity it presents.
2. Yum China: This country loves this fast food
Yum China -- the exclusive licensee of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell from former parent Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM) -- is also sporting a recent pullback since its earnings report in November. In addition to the familiar fast-food names, the company also owns a majority stake in Chinese hot pot chain Huang Ji Huang and a new coffee concept, COFFii & JOI, to take advantage of the country's fast-growing consumption of caffeinated beverages.
Thanks in large part to the popularity of KFC in China -- which Yum China is allowed to put its own twist on to appeal to local tastes -- this multi-brand restaurant operator is the largest there is in the world's most populous country. That certainly doesn't mean this will be a boring story to follow in the years ahead, though. Yum China had just over 8,900 locations in operation at the end of Q3, but it plans on expanding to 20,000 over the next decade or two. And it certainly has momentum working in its favor: 646 stores have been opened so far this year, and the company is on track to have opened at least 800 by year-end.
This isn't a case of overexpansion. KFC especially is far from oversaturated in China. Though new restaurants are opening at a torrid pace, comparable sales (foot traffic and average guest ticket size at existing stores) are up in the low single digits this year -- including a 3% increase just in Q3. Paired with new-store openings but tempered by a negative impact from currency exchange rates, revenues were up 4% and earnings per share up 15% through the first three quarters of 2019. All of that is in spite of a slowing Chinese economy exacerbated by the trade dispute.
This fast-food stock is down 10% from its highs set earlier in the year, and it currently trades for 24.6 times trailing earnings and 22.8 times one-year forward expected earnings. With investor response to solid business performance muted, now looks like the time to add Yum China to your watch list.
3. Momo: Matchmaking across the Pacific
Momo is China's leading online dating service, but it has transformed itself into much more than just that. It's now an entertainment platform, hosting internet TV shows, mobile video games, chat, and karaoke (don't knock it; it's a big deal on the other side of the world). After a rough outing in 2018, Momo is sporting a 56% return with just a month to go in 2019 -- though it's still off its all-time high (set last year) by about 30%.
This Chinese social media suite is another growth-for-a-reasonable-value proposition. Though the stock has surged higher this year, it still trades for just 21.7 times trailing earnings and 11.1 times one-year forward earnings. The reason? Q3 sales increased 22% -- certainly nothing to be upset about. But it is a slowdown from the 35% and 32% rates set in Q1 and Q2, respectively, and a steep fall from the full-year 2018 51% expansion rate. With revenues cooling off, investor expectations were in need of some grounding.
However, management said it expects another 18% to 20% increase in Q4 and still sees plenty of room for further growth in the years ahead. Even better than the top line, though, is how quickly Momo is turning those sales into profitable gains. In Q3, adjusted earnings were up 37% from the same period last year. With maximum growth at any cost now behind it, investors should enjoy big bottom-line increases in the years ahead, which should keep this stock's returns afloat.
Thus, even though Momo's stock has had an incredible run this year, investors shouldn't write it off as the one that got away. The social and dating app is still worth keeping an eye on this month since it trades for a reasonable price given its long-term potential.