Don’t Hit the Buy Button on iQiyi Stock Just Yet

IQ stock - Don’t Hit the Buy Button on iQiyi Stock Just Yet

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So you missed the big run-up in Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). But you heard that this Chinese company called iQiyi (NASDAQ:IQ) is the “Chinese Netflix,”  and you’re thinking of an investment.

If this is money you could just as easily burn, then go right ahead and buy IQ stock. You might be a winner. But if this is your retirement fund or your kids’ college education, step away from that buy button for a moment.

While it’s true that iQiyi (pronounced eye-CHEE-yee) could become a big winner, little is certain, especially in the China market (IQ also operates in Taiwan). There are important differences between how iQiyi and Netflix operate that you want to keep in mind.

True, IQ stock has nearly doubled in value since its late-March IPO, while Netflix is up “only” 18%, but that’s a speculative price, not based on results.

Let’s take a closer look.

A Baidu Spinoff

First, IQ is a spinoff of Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU), which some call the Chinese Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL), but I think of more as its Yahoo.

Baidu has been public for the same length of time as Alphabet. Its gains have been enormous because it started from a smaller base, but BIDU stock hasn’t done much in four years. Its market cap is $78 billion, not 1/10 of Alphabet’s.

This isn’t Baidu’s only current spinoff. Cofounder Li Yanhong, who goes by Robin Li, was worth $18.5 billion last October and is also spinning out the company’s fintech arm, Du Xiaoman, and its DU Ad Platform, to focus on artificial intelligence and self-driving cars, hiring over 200 people in Silicon Valley and Seattle.

Baidu still owns over half of IQ, and if you’re not a 30-something millionaire, it might be a less risky investment. Baidu had second quarter revenues of $3.93 billion, up 32% year-over-year, with net income of $967 million, and announced a $1-billion share repurchase plan last month.

Concerns for iQiyi

What you get with IQ is a mobile-focused streaming platform which lost $574 million last year on revenues of $2.67 billion. By way of comparison, Netflix earned $384 million on revenues of $3.97 billion in just the second quarter.

Speculative fever is running rampant in IQ stock, evidenced by it gaining 6% early in August after whiffing on earnings, with a loss of $316 million and 47 cents per share, on revenue of $932 million.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, IQ is backed by advertising and focused on the “Little Emperors,” its most popular program being The Rap of China. The company continues to invest heavily in content, including Netflix content, to broaden its base.

Then there is, you know, China. Rising trade tensions could hit all Chinese stocks hard, especially those like IQ stock that are based on young people spending freely. It also faces more competition than Netflix, trailing a unit of Tencent (OTCMKTS:TCEHY) in the Chinese market, with a unit of Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) close behind.

Bottom Line on IQ Stock

I like the Chinese market. I own Alibaba stock, and I’ve done well with it.

But there’s a difference between investing in a broad-based, international conglomerate, which Alibaba has become, and a narrowly focused spinoff like IQ. You’re betting on a small subset of the market with fast-moving tastes, betting on China’s government not cracking down further on video or internet content, and betting on one company in a close three-horse market race.

That said, if I were 30 years younger, I’d probably take the plunge in IQ stock. After all, I missed the run-up in Netflix, too.

Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of a new mystery thriller, The Reluctant Detective Finds Her Family, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing, he owned shares in BABA.

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