American investors are ultra-bearish on Chinese stocks right now. The reelection of President Xi Jinping and his focus on nationalism over economic growth has darkened the mood.
China’s government has stopped publishing many economic statistics, even withholding its third-quarter GDP number. The country’s use of lockdowns against Covid-19 has many disbelieving the statistics that do come out.
For instance, a recent study of nighttime lighting, observed from satellites, indicates autocrats routinely report twice the economic growth of democratic countries. Xi’s China now counts as thoroughly autocratic.
From 1978 until recently, China maintained stability by relying on looser control. But as Xi increases his authority, living standards are no longer increasing. Stocks and housing have both crashed. The national currency, the Yuan, now trades at 7.3 to the U.S. dollar. A year ago, it was at 6.4.
I didn’t think Xi would crash the economy without paying a political price, but I was wrong. As a result, I no longer expect to ever see a profit on my past investment in Alibaba (NYSE:BABA). That’s dead money, mostly lost forever.
The question is, what can we expect from here? Alibaba at $160 is gone. But can you make money at about $67, its recent price? Most analysts say no. But if a September deal on auditing Alibaba and other Chinese companies manages to hold, the skies might start to clear. It would eliminate the threat of delisting, which would force American owners to sell in Hong Kong for their currency, then pay to turn it back into dollars.
The following are five large Chinese investments still traded in the U.S. that were previously popular with American investors, but are now on the outs. They might not return to glory, but they may be able to deliver a return.
No company represents the fall of China’s market as well as Alibaba. The argument for it is that it is irresistibly cheap.
Two years ago, before Xi’s crackdown on technology began, Alibaba was trading near $300 per share. Now it’s fighting to hold $65. What was once China’s leading “Cloud Emperor,” ready to challenge companies like Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Alphabet (NADSAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) for cloud supremacy, is now worth barely $175 billion.
Growth has stalled and earnings are down by half, according to Alibaba’s June earnings report. Yet Alibaba still brought in over $3 billion from operations, with earnings of 16 cents per share and revenue topped $30 billion. For perspective, Salesforce (NYSE:CRM) brings in one-third of that revenue and half of the earnings per share, yet its market cap is just $10 billion lower.
Alibaba is cheap because of Xi Jinping. While antitrust rules have hurt, nothing has caused the stir of $15.5 billion taken directly from Alibaba’s coffers for “common prosperity.” It’s seen as blackmail, although the company still had $67.6 billion in cash and equivalents on its books at the end of June. By way of comparison, Meta Platforms (NASDAQ:META) had $42 billion in cash and equivalents at the end of September and a market cap of $251 billion.
With his hold on power secure from rivals, all Xi needs fear is the “quiet quitting” of a people who see no hope for a better life. If he eases up, even a little, Alibaba stock will rise from here. Even a rumor of weakened Covid rules sent it up 5%. Alibaba is a coiled spring of value among Chinese stocks.
Richard Liu promised to spend more time thinking about the company’s long-term future when he left in April. He’s just one of many Chinese billionaires who have left their posts lately. The brain drain has not gone over well in the markets.
Under Xu Lei, JD.com is still growing, albeit slowly. Revenues of $40 billion for the June quarter were up 5.4% from the previous year. Net income jumped to $601 million, or 41 cents per ADS, not bad for a retailer.
Growth came against a backdrop of continuing lockdowns, inflation and supply chain disruption. There are healthy sales in the run-up to this year’s “Singles’ Day” on Nov. 11.
It’s hard to find an American analog to JD.com. The closest is the online store run by Amazon. Amazon suffered a $2.5 billion operating loss on its store operations during the most recent quarter, saved by the $5.4 billion in profit from its AWS cloud. Maybe JD.com isn’t doing that bad.
There are signs of retrenchment, however. JD is backing away from Europe and is cutting back on Southeast Asia. But analysts continue to say it is short-term thinking that is hurting the stock, not the company’s long-term potential.
This includes a logistics operation the government wants to see test its mettle against FedEx (NYSE:FDX) and United Parcel Service (NYSE:UPS). JD.com has already mastered drones, robots and software. All it needs to expand in this area is capital.
Social shopping has never taken off in the U.S. But it has in China, thanks to Pinduoduo (NASDAQ:PDD). Of all the Chinese stocks covered here, it’s the most unique and the best to speculate on.
It’s the site’s growing global presence that has bulls fingering buy buttons, given that it’s down 41% in the last two years. At its recent price, the ADR is selling for 28 times last year’s low earnings and about 3.5 times 2022 revenue. There was about $18 billion of cash on the books in June to fund global ambitions.
Pinduoduo launched in 2016 and managed to succeed in China despite the logistics strength of Alibaba and JD.com. It used a “team purchase model” like Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN), storytelling like Pinterest (NYSE:PINS) and social media like Meta Platforms’ Instagram to do what none of those companies has yet done: drive commerce without the dreaded “sales funnel” that has Amazon suggesting you buy what you bought from them last week.
Americans can now get a taste of this through Pinduoduo’s Temu, which launched in September. If China’s domestic economy recovers, its profits should power the U.S. push. That’s why 11 of 12 analysts at Tipranks say you should buy PDD stock here.
No Chinese tech company has its fingers in so many pies as Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU), once known as China’s answer to Alphabet. But shareholders are asking what’s in it for them. Along with Alibaba and Tencent, it’s one of what I have called China’s “Cloud Emperors,” owning networks of cloud data centers.
The reason to buy Baidu is co-founder and CEO Robin Li, now worth $4.8 billion. He may be the closest the country has to an Elon Musk figure.
Over the last two years, Baidu stock is down 40% but still worth $27 billion. Its second-quarter revenue, impacted by Covid lockdowns, still came in at $4.4 billion with earnings of $543 million, or $1.49 per share. If it could maintain that pace, it would be among the cheapest tech stocks around. But it regularly sustains losses.
Baidu was a search engine. It is now a technology conglomerate. What drives it is Li’s vision for artificial intelligence, which includes quantum computers as well as software. Some of its self-driving taxis are now operating without human staff.
Li’s visions are so broad Baidu can’t fund them all, so the company has done several spinoffs. An example is Iqiyi (NASDAQ:IQ), a streaming video company whose stock traded for $40 per share in 2019 but now sells for $2.13. Baidu has also spun out its financial services unit, its semiconductor unit, its voice control unit and its mobile ad platform. It has discussed spinning out its autonomous car project.
Li has a vision of artificial intelligence driving the world. He still has a substantial stake in his company. If you believe in the vision and believe in Li, it’s an interesting speculation.
I am not a fan of Nio (NYSE:NIO). The problem isn’t the government. It’s the company’s structure and its niche. The stock can rise from here, but I don’t see it returning to its highs.
Many American investors buy Nio stock, thinking they’re getting the Chinese Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA). They’re not. Founder William Li is the recipient of $1.4 billion from the state government of Hefei, which tied it to the city government west of Shanghai and government-controlled JAC Motors. JAC now uses Nio as the upper end of its electric car line.
The change has kept Nio in the running among luxury electric vehicle (EV) makers traded in the U.S. With a market cap of $17 billion, it is delivering about 10,000 cars per month. Its production is comparable to that of Li Auto (NASDAQ:LI) and XPeng (NYSE:XPEV). They’re not doing great, either.
The problem is China is no longer just a luxury EV market, like the U.S. The nation’s biggest maker of electrics is BYD (OTCMKTS:BYDDF). The competition is not close. Tesla is second globally, with Volkswagen (OTCMKTS:VWAGY), state-owned SAIC and China’s Geely (OTCMKTS:GELYF) rounding out the top five.
Nio has a niche in that it has a car it can export, but it’s stuck in its niche and will likely remain there. Once this stock traded at $57 per share, but now it trades for less than $10. However, Goldman Sachs remains high on Nio. It held $644 million in Nio shares as recently as August.
On the date of publication, Dana Blankenhorn held long positions in BABA, AMZN, CRM and GOOGL. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.