"The Chinese Google" is probably the best way to describe what Beijing-based Baidu Inc. (BIDU) does. The $35 billion firm is the incumbent internet search provider in the People's Republic, boasting around half a million advertising customers and search traffic that puts it in the top five most-trafficked sites in the world.
Baidu's business model is effectively the same as Google's, with paid-search making up the brunt of its strategy. It's real economic moat comes from the challenges of operating in the challenging Chinese market -- with Google's exit from China in 2010, one of the biggest competitors sent a conspicuous message to other western search providers that doing business in China wasn't worth the trouble, limiting the chances that someone else will take Google's place (and market share). Financially, BIDU boasts a stellar balance sheet with $21.2 billion in debt offsetting a paltry $2.4 billion debt load -- that gives BIDU plenty of dry powder to pursue growth opportunities.
Chinese firms fell out of favor with U.S. investors in a big way in the last year and change, and BIDU's size didn't make it an exception. Concerns over the large number of cases of financial fraud present a problem for both sides -- and there's been talk of Chinese investors pulling listings off of U.S. exchanges to counter the low valuations. That could actually be a good thing for U.S. owners of Chinese firms as going-private transactions inject some quick gains into these stocks. Baidu, for its part, remains one of the more transparent Chinese ADRs on the NASDAQ.Salesforce.com Customer relationship management software maker Salesforce.com (CRM) has been benefitting from its leading spot in the market -- shares have rallied more than 61% since the start of the year, buoyed by strong fundamental performance. Salesforce serves more than 100,000 businesses spread across the globe, helping them interact with their own customer lists, enabling everything from sending newsletters to tracking sales. That mission-critical nature of Salesforce's offering gives the firm a big economic moat for shareholders right now. The growing popularity of computing has become a major growth driver for software-as-a-service firms, and Salesforce has taken full advantage. The company was one of the first major software vendors to offer a hosted CRM solution. That first-to-market status for Salesforce means that it's got a measurable jumpstart over peers who are attempting to move customers over to their platforms.
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