The past year has been rough for Chinese tech stocks. In May, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that threatened to delist U.S.-listed Chinese tech companies if they didn't comply with new auditing standards.
Several Chinese companies then filed secondary listings in Hong Kong, sparking fears of a mass exodus from U.S. exchanges. Chinese regulators also recently drafted new antitrust rules to rein in top tech companies like Tencent (TCEHY -1.69%), Alibaba (BABA -1.64%), and Baidu.
Those challenges have cast a dark cloud over China's tech sector, but I believe three growing companies are still worth holding onto over the next decade: NetEase (NTES 0.04%), JD.com (JD -2.12%), and Bilibili (BILI -0.89%).
1. The underappreciated gaming giant: NetEase
NetEase is China's second-largest video game publisher after Tencent. Its top games include Fantasy Westward Journey, Invincible, Life-After, and Knives Out. It also owns the discount e-commerce marketplace Yanxuan, a streaming music service, and an online advertising business.
NetEase streamlined its business over the past two years by selling its online comics to Bilibili, selling its cross-border e-commerce marketplace Kaola to Alibaba, and spinning off its online education unit Youdao (DAO 3.99%) in an IPO while retaining a majority stake.
NetEase's revenue rose 22% year-over-year to 35.2 billion yuan ($5 billion) in the first half of 2020, as its online gaming, Youdao, and "innovative businesses and others" segments (including e-commerce and advertising) all grew throughout the pandemic. The gross margins for all three businesses also expanded year-over-year, and its adjusted net income per ADS grew 28%.
Unlike Tencent -- which diversifies its business across the gaming, social networking, advertising, cloud, and fintech sectors -- NetEase generates over three quarters of its revenue from video games. It's also less exposed to antitrust regulations, since it doesn't own a culturally dominant platform like Tencent's WeChat or lead any of its main markets.
NetEase will likely continue growing over the next ten years as it launches new installments of its flagship Fantasy Westward Journey video game franchise, invests in overseas markets like Japan, and expands NetEase Cloud Music -- which ranks second in China's streaming music market after Tencent Music.
2. The resilient e-commerce behemoth: JD.com
JD.com is China's largest direct retailer and the second-largest e-commerce company after Alibaba. Unlike Alibaba, which mainly hosts listing platforms for sellers who handle their own inventories, JD takes on inventories and fulfills those orders with its own logistics network.
Therefore, JD generates higher revenue than Alibaba at much lower margins. Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma once claimed JD's capital-intensive approach would end in a "tragedy," but JD's ongoing infrastructure and logistics investments gradually paid off.
JD Logistics, which also serves third-party customers, is now one of China's most advanced delivery networks, with automated warehouse robots, delivery drones, and driverless delivery vehicles. The network's scale now enables JD to stay profitable while keeping counterfeit products out of its marketplace.
JD's focus on quality and speedy deliveries continues to attract new customers. Its number of annual active customers grew 30% year-over-year to 417.4 million in the second quarter of 2020, and over 80% of those new customers came from China's underserved lower-tier cities.
As a result, JD's revenue rose 28% year-over-year in the first half of 2020, and its net income per ADS more than doubled. It attributed that earnings growth to robust sales of higher-margin products, tighter cost controls, and the overall efficiency of its logistics network.
That momentum should continue for the foreseeable future, making JD a top long-term play on China's e-commerce market. Moreover, ecosystem support from its top investors -- which include Tencent, Walmart, and Alphabet's Google -- should continually widen JD's moat against Alibaba.
3. The Gen Z darling: Bilibili
Bilibili is a digital media company that provides ACG (anime, comics, and gaming) content to China's Gen Z users. It licenses mobile games, streams anime series and live video, and hosts digital comics on its platform. It also sells tie-in products through its online marketplace.
Bilibili's monthly active users rose 55% year-over-year to 171.6 million last quarter. Its daily active users grew 52% to 50.5 million, and its average monthly paying users surged 105% to 12.9 million. Its number of "official" members, who pass a 100-question test to gain exclusive perks, rose 65% year-over-year to 89 million.
Those robust growth rates, especially among Gen Z users, attracted big investments from Tencent, Alibaba, and Sony -- which all saw Bilibili as a way to counter the growth of ByteDance's Gen Z-oriented apps.
Bilibili's revenue rose 69% year-over-year to 4.93 billion yuan ($740 million) in the first half of 2020, as its core businesses all generated double-digit or triple-digit growth. Its net loss widened from 499 million yuan to 1.1 billion yuan ($170 million), but it's still sitting on 15.6 billion yuan ($2.2 billion) in cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments.
Bilibili could gradually narrow its losses as it expands its audience and converts more of its official members to paying ones. It could be a bumpy ride, but Bilibili's ability to lock in China's youngest internet users makes it a promising growth stock to hold for the next decade.