Don't Fall Into This Blank Trap

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"The blank of blank" is usually a recipe for disaster.

Quepasa (ASE: QPSA) was "the Facebook of Latin America" when the stock was hitting new highs earlier this year.

Renren (NYS: RENN) was "the Facebook of China" as it was going public earlier this year.

Rediff.com (NAS: REDF) was "the Google of India" when it was trading in the double digits for the first time in more than three years back in April.

All of those syrupy claims have come undone, taking the three speculative hype-busters into the single digits.

Lackluster revenue and crummy user engagement exposed Quepasa's shortcomings. Facebook is the Facebook of Latin America. Duh! You don't get to 800 million active users if you limit yourself to the 300 million people in your home country. A Spanish version of Facebook has been available since early 2008. Even if there was no Facebook, Telefonica's Tuenti and Google's (NAS: GOOG) Orkut are far more ubiquitous than Quepasa through Latin America.  

Renren is the top dog in social networking in China, but that's a tenuous distinction. We don't know how social the Chinese government will let social networks become in the world's most populous nation. Either way, it was preposterous to think that Renren could get away with going public commanding a $5.6 billion market cap. That's not the right price for a profitless company with a mere $76.5 million in revenue last year.

Then there's Rediff.

Getting more Bangalore for your buck
Rediff investors would like to think that they're getting in at the bottom. India is the world's second most populous nation, and the country realizes that it needs to beef up its connectivity efforts to get more of the country online.

Who can resist the Google of India?

Well, a lot of people can pass on Rediff, especially once they catch a glimpse of its numbers.

Rediff posted another uninspiring quarterly report on Friday. Revenue climbed a mere 1% to $5.1 million during the third quarter. You know things are bad when the company's bottom line isn't addressed once in the eight descriptive paragraphs of the press release. The income statement at the bottom reveals that Rediff's quarterly deficit has widened from $1.6 million to $2.6 million.

Rediff is always good at spinning yarn. Its press release plays up recent initiatives including a new micro-blogging website, hopping on the Groupon bandwagon with daily deals, and a push into local television advertising.

Strip away all of the noise and you have the same company that investors have had for a couple of years: Rediff is a profitless company generating an average of less than $2 million a month in revenue.

Rediff isn't the Google of India. Google is the Google of India.

According to traffic tracker Alexa.com, Rediff is the 10th most popular website in India, lagging sites including Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Show me the rupees
Rediff's lack of monetization is a bigger problem than the portal's market-share position. India travel specialist MakeMyTrip (NAS: MMYT) is the only other Indian dot-com pure play trading in this country.

Revenue climbed 54% to $52 million in its latest quarter. Anyone claiming that Rediff needs India's Draft National Telecom Policy to kick in before the country begins seeing material cyberspace growth should be asking why a travel portal is generating 10 times the revenue as the fledgling Rediff portal. A better question may be why Rediff was generating more revenue three years ago.

Clearly there is a widening gap between the perceived potential of this story stock and the reality that meanders on the other side.

Fill in the blanks
There are exceptions to the "blank of blank" trap. Marketplace maven Mercadolibre (NAS: MELI) really is the eBay of Latin America. Baidu (NAS: BIDU) has been "the Google of China" since going public six years ago. It has been on the market's biggest winners in that time.

The key in separating the hype from the storybook endings rests in authenticity. Baidu really is the top dog in China when it comes to search. Mercadolibre really is a powerhouse of e-commerce through most of Latin America.

This doesn't mean you have to be the gold medalist to make money. India's market will have room for more than a single winner as broadband connectivity improves. However, until Rediff shows signs of dramatically growing its revenue or rounding the corner of profitability there's no point in reading any further into this story stock.

If you want to follow India's Internet companies, consider trackingRediff.comandMakeMyTripthrough My Watchlist.

At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Google.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Baidu, Mercadolibre, eBay, and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors.Longtime Fool contributorRick Munarrizcalls them as he sees them. He owns no shares in any of the stocks in this story and is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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