Select Page

I’ve got a number of open slots in my long-term 50 Stocks portfolio and I’m going to fill one of those with a buy of Tencent Holdings (TCEHY). Tencent Holdings closed at $26.25 today, February 14.

Tencent is the other big Chinese Internet stock. It’s less well known, to U.S. investors anyway, than Alibaba (BABA) but it may have a better business. (Alibaba is already a member of my Jubak Picks portfolio.)

Alibaba operates e-commerce market places that earn it the moniker of the (AMZN) of China. (Amazon only wishes that it dominated the U.S. economy the way that Alibaba is everywhere in the Chinese economy from logistics to mobile payments to investment products to ….)

I could parallel that by calling Tencent the Google or the Facebook of China. But that’s nowhere near an accurate measure of Tencent’s clout in the Chinese economy. At the least I’d need to call Tencent the Google AND Facebook of China.

Tencent is China’s largest Internet service provider. It launched its instant messaging service QQ in 1999. It’s mobile chat service WeChat, launched in 2011, dominates smartphone Internet services in China with some 850 million monthly active users.

Tencent has been pushing to monetize that huge customer base.


Well, duh? How about online advertising. Year-on-year growth of ad revenue was 110% in 016. That’s an impressive acceleration from 65% growth in 2014. (And since Tencent has been built around mobile from the beginning, it hasn’t had to work through any wrenching transition from desktop like Alphabet’s Google has (GOOG). Morningstar forecasts 30% average annual growth in online advertising revenue at Tencent from 2016 through 2021.)

Less obvious examples of monetization include mobile games. For example, Tencent is now the largest game company in the world. In 2016 it distributed almost half of China’s top 10 mobile games and 25% of the top 100 mobile games. Tencent’s model is to give away the games and make money from selling in-game tools and enhancements.

Or how about WeChatPay, which is gaining share against Alibaba’s Alipay. Tencent’s market share climbed to 36% in 2016 from 20% 2015.

U.S. investors need to understand that the Chinese Internet sector doesn’t work exactly like the U.S. sector. China has skipped stages of development in the telecommunications and financial sectors, to take two examples. In the U.S. mobile payments is a highly competitive, fast growing sector. U.S. mobile payments rose 39% in 2016, according to Forrester Research to a total of $112 billion. No wonder that companies like PayPal, Google, Visa, and Apple all want all want a piece of the action.

In China, however, where banking at brick and mortar banks, the use of credit cards, and the ownership of desktop computers are relatively rare, mobile payment transactions tripled in 2016 to $5.5 trillion. (Yep, trillion.) Forrester forecasts that mobile payments in the United States will increase 2.6 times by 2019. In the same period Chinese mobile payments are forecast to rise 7.4 times, according to iResearch.

In many ways, I’d argue, Tencent in particular and the Chinese Internet sector in general is innovating at least as fast if not faster than the U.S. industry. Take Tencent’s “Little Program,” which is designed to let users access content and services without having to download a memory- and time-consuming app (or 2 or 10.) Of course, that just happens to lock users into Tencent’s ecosystem. Morningstar says that Tencent has built a super-app that combines browsing and social networking. Pretty neat.

I’d also note that except in the mobile game sector–where Tencent has been acquiring developed-economy game companies to provide new content to its China gaming customers and to provide a bridge to expansion beyond China–Tencent has barely begun to explore building its businesses beyond China. Lots of opportunity still ahead.

Tencent isn’t cheap, of course. Market leaders like this never are, especially in China. Tencent trades at 33 times forecast 12-month earnings and 45 times trailing 12-month earnings per share. For reference Amazon trades at 171 times trailing 12-month earnings. Alphabet trades at 29 times trailing 12-month earnings per share.