The chart and one single number tell the story here: China Mobile (CHL) is the biggest phone company in the world, but markets have yet to appreciate that fact.
CHL now has 22 million 3G — data or “smart phone” — subscribers, which is a full 45% more than its next closest competitor, China Unicom (CHU) and a full 44% of the overall Chinese smart phone market.
Smart phone adoption is expanding at a fast clip in China. There are roughly 30% more 3G subscribers in the country — a full 12 million accounts — now than there were in October, and CHL is reaping the majority of that growth even though CHU has all the frills of Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone behind it.
For all that, CHL is almost obscenely cheap right now on a pure valuation basis.
On a current-year basis — not even accounting for near-term growth that the 3G subscriber numbers reflect — CHL is trading at about 10 times earnings.
According to Reuters, CHU is trading at a mind-blowing 74 times current-year earnings.
Whether this is the “iPhone aura” at work in the minds of Western investors, or something else is going on, if CHL has the growth and the market share already in hand, it looks more like a bargain than ever.