Is 103% growth really 103% growth? That's a question investors in Chinadotcom
This probably sounds familiar. If hot Chinese stocks were horses, we at the Fool would have been hauled in by the equine-cruelty police long ago for lashing Netease.com
But any time stocks shoot up like these, it's good to step out of the crowd and refocus your enthusiasm. Chinadotcom's 103% revenue growth for 2003 does look amazing at first, as does the 9% gain in gross margins, to 46%. And investors will be happy about the firm's full-year profit of $0.15 per share, against last year's $0.18 loss.
But where is this growth coming from? The answer is not "organic growth of core operations." In fact, advertising and marketing revenues dropped 27% from last year. The winning phrase is: big shopping spree.
The company started out in the Internet advertising business, but over the last couple years has developed an appetite for enterprise software companies, such as the recent grab for unprofitable Canadian software firm Pivotal
In fact, Chinadotcom engages in more costume changes than Nathan Lane in The Bird Cage. The company plans to spin off its Web and mobile enterprises into a separate unit as it reorganizes to cope with recent business-software acquisitions and juggle new overtures to Chinese businesses such as Go2joy and Beijing 17game.
The frenetic lack of focus (and strangely named target enterprises) make me a bit nervous, as does its incorporation in the Cayman Islands. I'm not suggesting the firm doesn't have good prospects -- just that's it's very difficult to draw a bead on what those prospects might be. And when a firm has seen 470% inflation in stock price over the past year and carries a P/E north of 60, I like a lot more clarity and purpose in the business model.
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Fool contributor Seth Jayson is preparing for angry email. He owns no stake in any company mentioned here.