Chinese e-commerce is booming, and it's hard to ignore JD.com (JD -2.13%) when sizing up the strongest players in the world's most populous nation. JD.com bills itself as China's largest online retailer and its biggest overall retailer and internet company by revenue.
But it's not China's most valuable online retailer by market value. Alibaba (BABA -1.59%) has a commanding lead on the market cap front. The models are very different, with Alibaba as a marketplace operator commanding nearly a tenfold advantage on the margin front. However, it's fair to say that every other player outside of JD.com and Alibaba is a tiny speck in the industry's rearview mirror. JD.com and Alibaba are China's e-tail darlings, but is JD.com a buy right now? Let's take a closer look at the path that it has taken to get to where it is today.
You've come a long way
JD.com went public at $19 in the springtime of 2014. The stock has nearly quadrupled along the way, but the company itself has actually grown even faster. At the time of its market debut, JD.com had 47.4 million active customer accounts, and that figure has popped nearly ninefold to 417.4 million by the end of June. JD.com generated $11.5 billion in revenue in 2013, the last full year before it went public. Its top line over the trailing 12 months is now clocking in at $95.7 billion.
JD.com's growth hasn't come at the expense of its bottom line. It generated $2.3 billion in free cash flow in 2013, and actually retreated to $0.9 billion in 2014. trailing free cash flow is now at a record $22.7 billion.
In other words, as strong as JD.com has been as an investment -- and it has actually more than doubled for its shareholders in 2020 -- it is cheaper than it was at the time of its IPO using just about any valuation measuring stick you can throw at the dot-com darling. This doesn't mean that it's necessarily a good buy right now, but it's an important point in chronicling JD.com's success.
JD.com isn't growing as quickly as it was at the time of its debut. Revenue growth has actually decelerated every single year for the e-tailer as a public company. However, it's finally at the point where growth is running at a sustainable level. This may be the first year in which JD.com posts accelerating top-line growth.
Net revenue has risen 28% through the first half of 2020, up from the 25% gain it posted for all of 2019. JD.com's top line actually picked up the pace with a 34% year-over-year burst in its latest quarter. The COVID-19 crisis has slowed many global retail giants, but it's been the ideal climate for an e-commerce behemoth like JD.com to grab market share.
JD.com isn't cheap. It's trading at 35 times adjusted trailing earnings, a premium to faster-growing Alibaba with its multiple at a slightly more reasonable 28 times trailing adjusted net income. However, that doesn't mean both of China's leading e-commerce companies can't be compelling purchases at this point.
New investors may be kicking themselves for not getting in on the stock at less than half of the current price when the year began, but it's still attractive. JD.com has overcome the COVID-19 challenge that tripped up a lot of publicly traded companies, and the pandemic has only accelerated the migration in China to online retail. The future is bright.
There is no denying that investing in Chinese stocks is risky. It's a volatile market, and there are additional challenges as a stateside investor. However, JD.com has more than earned its recent gains. It is a buy right now.