Investors searching high and low for ways to cash in on China's booming economy will ultimately find themselves weighing the merits of Ctrip
That's impressive even before you begin to toss other factors into the blender, like the fact that China remains the world's most populous nation with 1.3 billion residents and that just 10% -- a mere sliver -- have online connectivity. Growth smoothie, anyone?
Citizens are slowly accruing disposable income. The Internet is gaining traction as a tool for finding ways to spend that newfound money. Travel and leisure stand to be huge beneficiaries of a perpetually improving China, and Ctrip offers front-row seats.
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About last night
It is under that favorable backdrop that Ctrip dropped its third-quarter results on investors yesterday. Net revenue soared 47% higher to hit $26.3 million. Earnings clocked in flat with the $0.25 a share it had generated a year earlier, but they would have risen to $0.30 a share before stock-based compensation expenses. Wall Street was only expecting Ctrip to earn $0.25 a share on $26.3 million in revenue.
Margins may have come in a little light over last year's showing, but that was the result of the company's revenue mix. Airline ticketing has been growing quicker than lodging bookings and -- in China as we find domestically -- airfare bookings are a lower-margin endeavor.
Ctrip's costs are also running a bit high due to China's migration from paper ticketing on flights to the domestically ubiquitous e-ticket options. Wait a minute. Aren't paperless transactions supposed to be more cost-efficient? Of course they are, for the airlines at least. In Ctrip's case, the company is spending on marketing campaigns to help educate the consumer as to the convenience of e-tickets.
It sees an opportunity here to blow the market wide open as the company that consumers associate with the paperless revolution. Ctrip is promoting e-tickets to gain mindshare and market share. In an old-school way, that also means that its sales reps are spending more time on each transaction, enlightening the customers.
Wait another minute. Isn't this Ctrip.com? What's the deal with the phone? Well, that's how it goes -- for now -- in China. Just 30% of Ctrip's transactions are actually completed online. It's just like Baidu.com,
Put me in coach, first-class investor
Despite an after-hours dip in Ctrip trading, the prospects for growth are amazing here. We're not just talking about the equivalent of buying into a Travelocity or an Expedia
The company expects to grow its top line by 40% in the current quarter, but there is little reason to believe that growth will decelerate much more than that over the next few years. The travel industry in China alone is growing at a double-digit percentage clip, and Ctrip has been nimble enough to grow its market share in a perpetually growing pie.
As it stands, most of Ctrip's revenue is still based on transactions in China's five largest cities. There is so much potential for growth as all of China ascends hand in hand with its brawny economy. The company also isn't doing a whole lot when it comes to international travel. Economic and political trends are pointing to dramatic improvement there, too.
Naturally, there are plenty of ways to play the leisure boom in China. The first wave of investing went toward companies providing cell phone entertainment, like Sohu
Ctrip offers a more concentrated bet on the growth of corporate and leisure travel. It's still pretty much a ground-floor opportunity. Even though the stock has been singled out by Tom Gardner in the Hidden Gems newsletter service and Ctrip remains one of the more active entries in Motley Fool CAPS, it's still early in the game.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been a fan of China's high-margin stocks for a long time. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. T he Fool has a disclosure policy.