Started by William Ding, who is credited with boosting the growth of the Internet in China, NetEase develops and operates some of that country's most popular online personal-computing and mobile games. It also offers advertising services, email services and e-commerce platforms.
NetEase is known for producing some of China's most renowned and longest-running online PC games, including Fantasy Westward Journey II and New Westward Journey Online II.
In partnership with Activision Blizzard's Blizzard Entertainment, NetEase operates some of the most popular international online games in China, including Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, StarCraft II and World of Warcraft.
NetEase's game line-up has impressed investors. The company unveiled new entries in its flagship mobile franchise and is also attempting to bring legacy PC-game successes into the mobile world.
In addition, NetEase struck a deal with Microsoft to bring addictive sandbox success Minecraft to China. Investors are keenly looking forward to this deal.
And as one of the largest providers of free email services in China, NetEase has e-commerce ventures, Kaola and Wangyibao.
In terms of earnings, NetEase hasn't had a bad quarter.
First-quarter after-tax earnings were $3.09 a share, beating expectations of $2.47 a share. Although gross profit margins on online games fell to 67.1% from 73.1% a year earlier, margins rose in the advertising services business to 62.4% from 59.2% and in NetEase's email and e-commerce divisions.
On the revenue front, online game services had more than 100% growth, advertising service was up 32%, and email, e-commerce and others clocked a 250%-plus uptick.
The company has cash and equivalents and various short-term investments of about $4.4 billion. Cash flow from operations stands at about $1.2 billion.
With annual earnings-per-share growth estimated at 21%-plus over the next five years, NetEase is clearly set to out-perform the industry (17%), as well as rivals Activision Blizzard (19.47%), Electronic Arts (14.94%) and Take-Two Interactive Software (12.24%). Only Zynga is projected to deliver a higher growth rate of 30% over the next five years, but the company is one-fifth the size of NetEase in terms of revenue.
Despite all these positives, ADRs of NetEase are down nearly 2% for the year to date, even after furious gains last month.
Although the ADR is close to its median analyst 12-month price target of $182, NetEase is still relatively cheap compared with other game makers.
At a price-earnings-growth ratio of 0.77, with any figure less than 1 representing a value, NetEase's ADRs are available at a steep discount to Activision Blizzard (1.1), Electronic Arts (1.42), Take-Two Interactive Software (2.39) and Zynga (2.95).
Based on five-year expected growth rates and the multiple, NetEase is among the best values in this exciting industry. Investors should also take into account the near 30% profit margins expected for NetEase, higher than for both Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts.
In these turbulent times, NetEase offers a growth opportunity that is time-tested and reasonably valued. Don't miss the ride.
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