What Happened to This Unknown Networking Stock?

Did you ever look at a Level 3 Communications (NAS: LVLT) chart, just wishing it could be more exciting? If so, Sify Technologies (NAS: SIFY) just might be the perfect stock for you.

What's up with the jolts?
Sify takes the long-range data networking services of a Level 3 and sells them mainly to business customers in India. So you get the stability of a large network provider with a side order of direct-to-consumer sales in an emerging market. Then there are the currency effects of trading stocks from exchanges on a distant continent. No wonder that Sify's beta value -- a measure of volatility -- is through the roof.

The stock has soared 88% over the past year even after a 7% dip on Monday. That 52-week chart includes a heart-stopping 230% spike in spring 2011, followed by an equally adrenaline-juicing summer drop.

Was this week's third-quarter report really bad enough to spark another 7% fall? It's a bit hard to tell, because I can't find any evidence of analysts following the stock, nor does management offer financial guidance. If that weren't enough to make the stock as unpredictable as a drunken frog on a pogo stick, insiders own just 8% of the shares and institutional investors hardly want to touch it. So 91% of the company is owned by regular Joes like you and me, with nary a hand to hold for guidance.

The best guidance you'll find on this company comes from our own CAPS system. There, your fellow investors give Sify a 91% approval rating, which is just enough for an unimpressive two-star rating out of five at these prices. Most CAPS players like Sify's role as a gatekeeper of Internet expansion in India.

Fellow Fool Rick Munarriz agrees that Sify is one of the best investment plays on the Indian online explosion. Certainly better than eternally unprofitable Internet portalRediff.com (NAS: REDF) , because only one of these two companies know how to make money.

Third-quarter sales were roughly flat year-over-year at $34 million. Management prefers to report profit on an EBITDA basis, removing its large depreciation expenses from the equation. On that basis, profits jumped 37% to $2.6 million. I think it's safe to say that flat sales for a supposed growth stock in the BRIC bloc leaves many investors cold, no matter what the adjusted bottom line looks like.

Isn't this a story stock?
he numbers don't tell the whole story. Like Level 3 did in its acquisition of Global Crossing, Sify works hard to expand its global network. The company is building a direct fiber-optic connection from India to the U.K. It also just opened the first cable landing station in Mumbai, paving the way for underwater connections to other international network builders. There's already an agreement in place to hook up with a peer in Egypt.

That's a lot of firsts even though Sify is much, much smaller than direct rivals Reliance Communications and Tata Communications (NYS: TCL) . Both boast revenues more than 10 times Sify's. Right now, both are also growing sales and earnings faster than their smaller rival, so it's hard to see any justification for buying Sify today. Tata in particular looks like a better value, and the more mature operation to boot.

So I'm not ready to make a call on Sify today, but this intriguing little stock certainly belongs on my watchlist -- and probably yours, too. There's no telling when Sify shares might pop or drop for no particular reason -- or fail to move on game-changing news. The stock is not only thinly traded, but hardly even watched. For a more mainstream international investment idea, check out The Fool's top stock for 2012.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. We have a disclosure policy.

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