NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- China Mobile (CHL) has fallen more than 4% from its yearly highs recorded last week as concerns about China's overall growth dented investor optimism surrounding the largest wireless carrier in the world.
Macroeconomic data on China for April that came out last week added fuel to the existing concerns that the country's economic growth was slowing. The quarterly data released earlier showed that China's GDP growth fell down to 8.1% a year in the first quarter of 2012, a sequential drop of 0.8%. Investors were anticipating a milder drop to 8.4%.
Much of the slowdown in China's growth rate stems from a drop in demand for its exports in key markets including the U.S. and Europe. The fact that China Mobile's growth is not dependent on exports but internal domestic consumption of its wireless services provides a better view of the company's prospects.China Mobile is the world's largest wireless carrier, with close to 670 million subscribers, dwarfing its U.S. counterparts Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) more than six times. We have a $59 price estimate for China Mobile, about 10% ahead of the current market price. See our full analysis for China Mobile's stock here.
Smartphone, 3G Demand to Support GrowthWhile the era of double-digit growth rates in the world's largest economy may be over, we expect the economy to still grow at a 7%-8% clip. Even the country's Five-Year Plan for 2011 to 2015 had called for an annual long-term GDP growth of 7%. At this rate, millions of Chinese will still enter the middle-class strata every year. Greater disposable income will see demand for 3G-capable smartphones increase in the coming years. China is already poised to overtake the U.S. this year to become the world's largest smartphone market by volume, according to IDC's latest market figures. (See China Mobile Primed for $59 as China's Smartphone Market Blossoms.) Further, a low 3G penetration of only about 15% in China is a massive opportunity for China Mobile to promote 3G widely. China Mobile's huge existing subscriber base is a big competitive advantage, in this regard. The carrier has over 600 million 2G subscribers that will eventually transition to 3G as mobile data services see a huge surge in demand over the coming years.
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