The All-Weather Chinese Dot-Com Nobody Knows

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Outside of being one of the first Chinese stocks listed alphabetically, most investors aren't familiar with 51job (NAS: JOBS) .

It's a pity, because they're missing one of the more consistent Chinese growth stocks.

51job got its start as a publisher of weekly job listings in city newspapers, but these days it's stopping the presses and embracing the scalable ways of cyberspace.

Business is booming for the online recruiter. Revenue in its latest quarter climbed 26% to $53.8 million, and that's with a 31% decline in its print business. 51job is deliberately scaling back its 51job Weekly print missives, and now has a hand in just 14 city newspapers.

The 26% top-line spurt masks the more impressive 49% surge in the online recruitment business that now makes up 62% of the company's revenue mix. If you think there are chunkier margins to be had in running a hot employment website than in selling print ads, you're right. Adjusted earnings soared 55% to $0.59 a share. Analysts were only expecting a profit of $0.53 a share on $50.9 million in revenue.

51job isn't the only company cranking out job listings. It competes with China Career Builder, Monster's (NYS: MWW) partly owned ChinaHR.com, and several other smaller Chinese-owned players. However, in a country with 1.3 billion people, clearly there are more than enough job openings to go around.

After swooning alongside many other Chinese growth stocks, 51job is now trading for just 21 times this year's earnings and 17 times next year's projected profitability. This is comparable to the employment enablers closer to home. TrueBlue (NYS: TBI) , Heidrick & Struggles (NAS: HSII) , and Robert Half (NYS: RHI) trade between 13 and 18 times next year's analyst profit targets.

The growth will continue, as 51job sees an adjusted profit of $0.58 a share to $0.61 a share on $56.4 million to $58 million in revenue, comfortably ahead of where analysts are camping out.

51job is one of the more all-weather investments in China. Yes, it's an Internet stock, but it's not the kind of dot-com that government would crack down on. It's in the country's economic interests to see employers promote their openings, and that's just what 51job is doing. It now has dedicated sales coverage in 75 Chinese cities.

It's working. It may only have a 17% increase in employers using the site to fill openings over the past year, but the average revenue per unique employer has climbed 28% in that time.

Even in this global lull, China's economy continues to grow faster than most of its Western peers. You may not know a lot about 51job, but bring it in for a portfolio interview. You'll probably like what you see.

If you want to follow the online recruitment scene in China, consider adding51jobto My Watchlist.

At the time this article was published Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of 51job. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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