With the largest population in the world, China is a huge market -- including for one of the world's fastest-growing industries, mobile phones.
China is projected to overtake the U.S. as the world's largest mobile phone market this year: Sales in China are expected to hit $87 billion, compared with U.S. sales of $60 billion. That represents year-over-year sales growth of 50% for China, compared with a mere 4% for the U.S.
Here are three distinct ways in which investors can gain exposure to China's mobile market:
China's Mobile Dominator
The #1 wireless provider in China (and the world), China Mobile (NYSE: CHL) owns over 70% of the market for mobile services in China. Yet, China Mobile is still in the middle of its LTE and 4G buildout, while also expanding in rural areas across China.
A key driver for the Chinese market is demand for more-sophisticated 3G and 4G phones, which offer users faster data transfer rates. The market looks promising, given that 70% of China Mobile subscribers still use 2G. That means China Mobile is poised to become an even bigger winner in China's mobile market.
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China Mobile has no debt and pays an enticing dividend yield of 3.8%. The $195 billion company trades at a forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 14 and an enterprise value-to-EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization ratio) of only 3.4.
The Leading Smartphone Play
After its 7-for-1 stock split, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) now trades at less than $100 a share, making it more affordable to retail investors. The split was just part of Apple's plan to become more shareholder-friendly, as the company has shown an increased willingness to raise its dividend and boost share buybacks.
The Chinese market for smartphones took off last year, nearly doubling to 700 million units. Apple focuses on the high-end smartphone market, a segment that it owns in China: 27% of China's smartphone market is made up of phones priced over $500 -- and 80% of those are iPhones.
Apple also inked a deal with China Mobile earlier this year, giving Apple access to some of China Mobile's 700 million subscribers.
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Shares of Apple remain incredibly cheap. Apple trades at just 13.4 times next year's earnings and has a P/E-to-growth (PEG) ratio of just under 1.0. Its dividend yield currently stands at 2.1%.
China's Up-And-Coming Phone Maker
Best known for its PCs, Lenovo (LNVGY) could see the most growth from a booming Chinese mobile market. Beijing-based Lenovo is already the #1 PC seller in the world and the #4 smartphone maker by unit sales.
Lenovo has been seeing success with its low-cost Android phones in China. Earlier this year, it launched its first LTE smartphone, the Vibe Z. Lenovo has been expanding its distribution channel, which will allow it to bring smartphones to developed countries this year.
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There's a lot to like about Lenovo's financial picture. The company has net cash of $3.5 billion, which covers over 25% of its market cap. Its return on equity is a very robust 28%.
Risks to Consider: The biggest risk is a broad slowdown in China. China Mobile has the most exposure to the mobile market in China. But Apple and Lenovo have high exposure to the PC market, which has been in decline for some time now.
Action to Take --> Buy these three companies to gain exposure to the rising demand for mobile phones in China. All three also have other key growth opportunities, giving them some downside protection. China Mobile is a broad play on the adoption of mobile phones in China, Apple and Lenovo offer plays on the high and low ends of China's mobile market, respectively.