How To Play China's Next Great Frontier, 4G For The Rural Masses

| About: Xinhua China (XHUA)
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Meeting with management of DJI Holdings gives insights into its partnership with and shareholding in state-owned media giant Xinhua's mobile app developer, Xinhuatong.

Xinhua's mobile app aims to reach out to the new frontier of China's mobile internet - newly connected rural areas.

Nasdaq listing still firmly in company's sights, but unlikely until early 2017.

Announced name change to BNN is reflection of changes in Chinese business already underway rather than anything very new.

I last gave an update about DJI Holdings (DJIH) (DJI.L on the London Stock Exchange) around a month ago. In the two weeks after my briefing the share price shot up over 60% on strong volumes. As impressively, it has stayed up. I believe this stock is going for another good run before the end of the year. Even from these newly elevated levels, it could also be a star performer through 2017. DJI is now trading on a market cap of £308m ($401m) and has recently often been turning over around $2m a day equivalent. From a largely retail stock a few months ago, the company now boasts an impressive blue chip share register, with the likes of Fidelity, Capital, Henderson and Deutsche Bank featuring as new major shareholders. Such investors have poured in around £50m ($65m) from new equity placements into the company in the last few months.

Yet DJI, which is in the business of mass-data processing in China, has a lousy track record and no revenue. So what's going on? A rather inscrutable set of announcements last Thursday (which had to include denying a leak) didn't help. Following this announcement I managed to meet, for the first time, the CEO Darren Mercer and the new CFO, Scott Kennedy to find out what is behind one of London's hottest stocks, and one that is to IPO on Nasdaq soon.

The company has hired Brunswick, the expensive global PR firm, to give it a corporate makeover. They haven't got off to a good start. They announced that DJI Holdings will change its name next month to BNN Technology to give it a more Chinese identity (go figure?), and formally announced a convoluted new corporate "Mission Statement" (does anyone ever read them?) that talked a lot about improving life for Chinese citizens, but forgot to mention making money for shareholders. Also in the announcement was an apparently minor deal to enmesh DJI with a Chinese company called Xinhuatong, and an application for a something called a National Payments Processing license in China. The shares fell about 10%.

What in this announcement really mattered? The seemingly innocuous deal with Xinhuatong. This is about to propel DJI into one of China's great new land grabs of the next decade, the vast new frontier of mobile internet in rural China.

China is going smartphone mad, and the lucrative payments business is so far dominated by two players AliPay (controlled by Alibaba's Jack Ma) and TenPay, part of a big Chinese internet group called TenCent. As with everything in China, the numbers are mind-boggling. AliPay already has 400m registered users. By comparison, PayPal, globally, only has 188m users. AliPay already has an 70% share of China's mobile payment market, which is estimated be a US$235bn annual industry.

Yet mobile network coverage in China is so far confined to very large cities. This is about to change. The Chinese government has made it a priority to shift economic development to its huge rural hinterlands, which have been left behind by the economic boom. Yet rural China contains half of its 1.4bn population. The new Five Year Plan, just released, has declared that the construction of the country's 4G network is to be rapidly accelerated. This is a massive project. So much so, that within four years it is intended that 85% of the entire population will have 4G coverage. All towns and administrative villages will be covered AND they will all have access to free government wifi. You can buy a smartphone for $30 in China. Think about it. This means that within about the next three years, a population larger than that of the United States, which has never even had fixed internet connectivity before, will potentially have a 4G smart phone in their hands. That is quite a frontier.

It's called the "Race for Rural" in China. And who is going win this hugely lucrative market for mobile payments, apps and all sorts of other mobile services? Well the Chinese Government has decided it wants to get in on the action. The government has tasked this job to the sprawling and giant state media company, Xinhua (OTCPK:XHUA) (pronounced "shin-wah"). Xinhua indirectly controls almost every television station and newspaper in China, and has offices in even the smallest of towns across rural China.

Yet in the new world of smartphones Xinhua has been left behind. The state media entity has now decided to join the mobile internet race especially as this is now part of government rural policy. It has launched a government Xinhua phone app, but the app is really more like a portal. Within this Xinhua portal will the whole gamut of mobile services (or "sub apps") that you would normally find spread across your phone home pages. You press the app, and that opens up a whole box of other Xinhua-branded apps, probably services such as insurance, on-line loans, personal credit ratings, bookings, etc, like a little Xinhua online department store. There will be other services, most obviously games, sports, news etc to attract and keep users. This new Xinhua app is rolling out fast. It already has over 150m users and targets to hit 300m users by the end of next year (about the same as Twitter or Sykpe globally). Thereafter it has the potential to be one of the biggest apps in the world.

So which hitherto unknown company is Xinhua using to create this bold move onto mobile internet? The answer is Xinhuatong, and DJI is the exclusive technology partner to Xinhuatong. It is already providing payment services, from which it takes a turn. As importantly, it gives DJI a seat at the table as Xinhua and Xinhuatong map out their mobile internet strategy.

Between now and Christmas there will be a series of other announcements relating to new services to drop into Xinhua's mobil internet department store. I don't know what these specially are, and haven't asked, although there has been some speculation around the market. DJI has around $60m which it is busy spending to set up a series of JVs in China, which will be announced one by one. There are also fairly obvious other areas for revenue generation such as data mining/sales and advertising. But we will have to wait and see what comes through.

It is important to understand the value of the Xinhua name in China. If, like me, you are over 40 years old, do you remember the first time you ever made a payment over the internet? It was a bit scary. You typed in your credit card details (which you assumed would probably get stolen), pressed "Enter" and wondered why anyone would bother sending you anything in return, now that they already had your money. It is an experience that is going to be repeated tens of millions of times across rural China in the next few years. For new rural internet users to feel safe with their payments, Xinhua, the official government news agency, is the most trusted brand there is (like the BBC, here in the UK). Unlike the two Chinese e-payments giants, it has 2,800 physical offices throughout China, so it quickly sign up e-payment deals with local utilities and the like. And processing all these transactions for a fee will be DJI. Further, the National Processing Payments license, referred to in Thursday's announcement, will allow DJI to take much fatter margins on each payment, as it can operate on the same terms as a credit card company.

DJI will not only be handling the back end, but will also be building front end mobile internet businesses, including content, for Xinhuatong as well. It ought to be the a relatively easy business; find the app ideas that have worked best in the West, source a strong local or international JV partner, put the Xinhua brand on it, and insert it into Xinhua smartphone portal. As investors understand this path forward, they are pouring into this stock in London with a market cap of just $420m. Compare that to AliPay, via its parent AntFinancial, which is expected to list in Shanghai soon for perhaps $150bn.

The new name BNN, I discovered, stands for Beijing New Net, which is DJI's operating company in China. The new name will be launched, along with a zippy new web site, next month. Expect the stock ticker to change from October 10, and will probably be "BNN". All this new re-branding work has pushed back the Nasdaq listing. The submission will go in after the name change next month, but there may also be delays as any subsequent new business announcements will then have to be incorporated into the prospectus. I am told the Nasdaq listing is now likely early in the new year. While this should help to re-rerate the stock, as fresh US investors will bring better understanding and higher multiples, the Aim listing has surprised me in the way it has carried the stock upwards and much bigger volumes.

So where is the share price going? The company believes it can achieve the revenue forecast of £85m for 2017, put out by the company's broker Mirabaud. and £27.8m profits, or EPS of 13.4p, which puts the stock on a distinctively un-racy prospective PER of 11.4x. This should certainly support the current share price on Aim given that this is a growth stock, and would point to a valuation of perhaps twice this on Nasdaq, say about £3 per share. The stock enjoys a buzz in London, and has also become a bit of trading stock. This is great for liquidity and provides buying support on any dips. We will have to wait for details of new business deals announced in the next few weeks and months. I am told Mirabeau will be putting out an updated set of forecasts. The company believes the national payments processing license should be granted in due course and boost payments margins substantially. Based on all this, a successful Nasdaq listing, and assuming the markets hold up generally, I would hazard at a share price of around £3.50 by the end of the 1Q17. I don't want to forecast beyond that, before we know more details of how this business is going to unfold.

To date, the CEO Darren Mercer, has done an astonishing job in turning around a moribund venture, and re-positioning it smack in the middle of China's internet sweet-spot. If he pulls this off, he will have succeeded where many of America's greatest tech companies have recently failed, by building a major Chinese app. Next spring will probably mark an end to the stage where the stock's pricing is all about big announcements, and the Nasdaq listing. Legacy shareholders will probably be taking profit as new US investors take up the running in the stock. In 2017 the story for DJI is going to be all about revenue and delivery. The company will need to ensure it books revenue as forecast, and lives up to the substantial general expectations it has built up for itself. The roll-out of 4G and free wifi to rural China is a massive story, and DJI Is the only way to play it in listed equities right now. However, the company will need some decent on-going brokerage research to knit together the various detailed announcements so investors can see the whole story.

The company is planning to beef up its board. New high-profile directors are important to the company at this stage, especially those prepared to get involved rather than just take a fee. The promised announcement of a strong US broker is also important. The company is starting to get a reputation for missing its own deadlines. I like the new CFO, Scott Kennedy, he is a clear thinker. He has a strong CV and is especially experienced in handling complex businesses. Among other things he was Global Head of Business Information, Planning and Analysis at HSBC (aged just 32). He also has good recent experience running a Nasdaq listing when he was FD of Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ:WLTW), which has revenues over $8 billion. During my 3 hour meeting I saw good chemistry between him and Darren Mercer. That's going to be useful, because they have a lot of work ahead of them.

I hold the stock (DJI.L on the London Stock Exchange), and all price-sensitive information is based on announcements in the public domain.

Disclosure: I am/we are long DJIH.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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