Advertising is still a growth sector. You just need a passport to find it

China's Focus Media (NASDAQ:FMCN) posted heady first-quarter results last night. Revenue from continuing operations soared 215% to $161.6 million. The ad giant posted a loss owing to the divestiture of its mobile handset business, but on an adjusted basis, earnings clocked in at $0.34 a share.

The results met Wall Street's expectations of $0.33 a share in profits on $162 million in revenue.

Still, shares fell as the company hosed down its guidance. After last month's catastrophic earthquake, the company is trimming its outlook by $40 million in revenue and $20 million in adjusted profitability. Focus Media now aims to generate non-GAAP earnings between $1.76 a share and $1.91 a share, on $820 million to $850 million in revenue.

The quake dealt the company's equipment only limited damage, but the near-term drying-up of advertiser demand in affected markets has forced Focus Media to take a more conservative stance.

If you believe the lull is temporary, now would be a great time to hop on China's leader in outdoor display advertising. The company boasts a massive marketing network:

  • 119,240 LCD monitors and digital frames, displaying video ads between content clips in high-traffic areas.
  • 61,420 monitors perched inside stores, thanks to the company's recent acquisition of rival CGEN.
  • 225,473 poster frames, located mostly in elevators of large residential buildings.
  • 21,447 digital poster frames, dynamically updated throughout the day.
  • An in-theater movie advertising network, similar to Cinemark (NYSE:CNK) closer to home.

Last year's acquisition of Allyes also makes Focus Media a force in online display advertising, trailing (NASDAQ:BIDU), but competitive with many other stand-alone portals

Focus Media's growth may not all be organic, but it bears noting that even its slowest-growing subsidiary saw its revenue skyrocket by 97% during the quarter.

There are plenty of ways to play China's ad boom. AirMedia (NASDAQ:AMCN) grabs eyeballs in airports. VisionChina (NASDAQ:VISN) has television monitors on bus and train systems. Asia Premium Television Group (NASDAQ:ATVG) is a marketing consultant making a play in the mobile market. Chinese portals like Baidu and (NASDAQ:SOHU) are obviously feasting on Web-based advertising.

They are all intriguing companies, though Focus Media's massive ad network is probably the best proxy for the health of China's nascent advertising market. With Focus Media's business likely to get back on track before this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing, today's dip is an opportunity. If that isn't clear, maybe I'll have to take out an ad to say so on the company's gargantuan eye-candy network.

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