By David Sterman
A growing chorus of investors has started to talk of a China bubble. These folks think the Chinese government will be unable to glide the economy onto a slower plane of growth without unexpected stumbles. And they expect Chinese stocks to move sharply lower if this rising giant loses its economic footing. Yet many others remain quite bullish, anticipating continued sustained growth for the hottest economy thus far in the 21st century. Who's right? Who knows?
Since it's hard to know how events will play out in 2011 in China, it's important to stay invested in this dynamic economy, but perhaps with a more defensive posture. Here are three companies that should flourish in 2011, regardless of how the broader Chinese economy -- and stocks -- fare in 2011.
Tri-Tech Holding (NASDAQ:TRIT)
China's got a problem: Its waterways are very polluted and many municipalities appear ill-equipped to assure citizens that their tap water is safe to drink. To clean up water supplies, they're increasingly turning to Tri-Tech for large scale remediation efforts. Tri-Tech offers a one-stop shop of hardware, software and services to clean and monitor water systems. It's not just a government business: Many large companies in China are being tasked to clean up their act, though they lack the skills to do so themselves.
Though the company only cracked the $10 million revenue mark in 2009, sales are now skyrocketing: They'll likely exceeded $40 million in 2010 and could hit $75 million in 2011. On Wednesday morning, management provided a comprehensive update regarding the many projects it is involved with, and also laid out a case for much higher levels of business activity.
China MediaExpress (OTCPK:CCME)
Everywhere you turn in China, you see advertisements. Various firms have carved out niches in various forms of ads. China MediaExpress is one of the leading providers of ads on buses. More than 25,000 buses operate around the country carrying ads placed by CCME on behalf of its clients. The company is now branching out into many second-tier cities, so that figure could surpass 35,000 in a few years.
Yet China MediaExpress found itself with an unusual problem. The company had built an impressive roster of clients (70% ad agencies, 30% direct advertisers), but the bus market has obvious limits. So the company has decided to take its considerable cash flow from that business and re-invest in a broader advertising platform. The goal: To steer the hundreds of thousands of passengers that ride its buses every day to a company-operated web portal. China MediaExpress' clients can run ads on its site (along with a soon-to-be-launched magazine) and customers can place orders in response to those ads.
China MediaExpress isn't aiming to become the next Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). Instead, it simply wants to get a healthy sales commission for every order placed, and let clients actually worry about order fulfillment. Although the company will need to spend money to build out the site in 2011, possibly creating a drag on profits, it should enable sales and profits to move nicely higher in 2012 and beyond.
Even before that foray, this is a cheap stock: Shares trade for just seven times likely 2010 profits. That multiple moves closer to five when you back out the company's hefty $170 million cash balance. Shares, which currently trade for about $17, could move up into the mid $20s or higher if the company's Internet initiatives start to pay off. Judging by the existing bus business alone, shares seem to be worth at least $20. Depending on how things play out, this stock has moderate-to-significant upside.
Deer Consumer Products (OTC:DEER)
I've written about this company several times before, and I'll keep doing so while it remains sharply undervalued. Deer makes kitchen appliances for global firms such as Stanley Black & Decker (NYSE:SWK) and sells into the Chinese market under its own name. In the past year, management has delivered the goods by serially raising sales and profit forecasts, buying back stock and inking new customer relationships. Sales, which grew an explosive 85% in 2009, likely more than doubled in 2010. A new plant to be opened in Eastern China in 2011 should propel growth higher.
Management predicts sales growth of at least 30% in 2011, and profits should grow even faster than that. Meanwhile, shares trade for just 10 times next year's projected profits. While they remain so cheap, management is using the company's prodigious cash flow to buy back stock. This stock remained out of the spotlight in 2010, but it's becoming too large to ignore, with annual sales pushing past the $200 million mark. As it finally moves onto more investors' radars in 2011, I see an upward move from a current $11 into the mid- to upper-teens.
2011 may or may not be a great year for the Chinese economy and stock market. But these companies are building powerful long-term business models, and the far-sighted investor is likely to profit from these stable, cash-rich plays.