JD: An Online Giant in China

02/03/2017 7:00 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

Paul Goodwin

Emerging Markets Specialist and Analyst, Cabot Heritage Corporation

JD.com (JD), a company with a great story, improving fundamentals and a surprisingly serene chart, notes Paul Goodwin, international investing expert and editor of Cabot Emerging Markets Investor.

It is actually China’s largest e-commerce company by revenue, an online retailer with a hefty $37.7 billion market cap and a similarly impressive $35.7 billion in annual sales.

The company differs from China’s other online giant, Alibaba (BABA), in that it owns and warehouses its own inventory (in 254 warehouses) and delivers via its own distribution network that includes fulfillment centers in seven cities and front distribution centers in 25 cities.

85% of JD’s orders nationwide receive either same-day or next-day delivery. The company offers special services for frequent buyers called JD Prime.

As of its Q3 earnings report in November 2016, JD.com boasted just shy of 200 million active customer accounts, which is up from 155 million at the end of 2015.

And 80% of all orders in Q3 were placed via mobile devices, which confirms the dominance of mobile vs. PCs in China’s online shopping life.

Electronics and home appliances have historically made up almost two-thirds of annual revenue, but general merchandise—so call “fast-moving consumer goods”—are playing an increasing role.

JD.com has one big trait in common with Amazon (AMZN) — it has spent years plowing its free cash flow back into the business to build its distribution network and grow its market share.

Despite years of increasing revenue and cash flow, JD.com booked losses in seven of the 10 quarterly reports from Q4 2014 to Q1 2016. But analysts believe that the bottom line’s tide has turned.

JD.com booked a 500% jump in earnings in Q2 2016 and a 200% jump in Q3. Estimates for 2016 earnings call for a loss of one cent per share, but it looks increasingly likely that full-year results will beat that estimate. Analysts are calling for 19 cents per share in profit in 2017.

JD, which came public at $19 in May 2014, has traded up and down for years as investors were attracted by its revenue growth and great potential, but were put off by the company’s sacrifice of short-term earnings for longer-term goals.

One other factor that might affect JD this year is a rumored spin-off of JD Finance, the company’s payment and credit arm. If it happens, it’s likely to occur soon, probably during the first quarter.

And if it happens, it will give a boost to JD.com’s profit for the year. Meanwhile, the story and numbers are so strong that we are going to take the risk of buying now.

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