The last time I looked at Coupang (NASDAQ:CPNG) stock six months ago, I could not recommend the Korean e-commerce player.
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Since then, the stock is down 40%. This doesn’t make me a genius. All money-losing, fast growth companies are down similarly, including some I like.
Coupang revenue grew 48% during the third quarter of 2021, the last one that’s been reported. While $4.64 billion in revenue is great, $324 million in losses are not. Neither is a cash burn of almost $191 million for the quarter.
Coupang reports its Christmas quarter on March 2. Another loss is expected.
The Coupang Story
My reason for not recommending Coupang last year had little to do with the numbers. It was mainly my unfamiliarity with the company and how it does business.
Coupang is building delivery infrastructure for online shopping, like Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), while using Amazon’s AWS cloud for its technical infrastructure.
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In the compact country of South Korea, Coupang is known for speedy delivery. Its Rocket service can get almost all orders delivered within 24 hours. There’s a subscription version called Rocket Wow that costs just $2.50 a month. (That fee was doubled for new customers starting this year.) Still, Coupang’s share of the Korean e-commerce market has been growing. It was estimated at 15.7% in 2021, 13.3% in 2020.
It’s not doing this in a vacuum, either. There’s competition from Alibaba Group Holding (NASDAQ:BABA) and its Lazada group, from Sea Limited (NYSE:SE), from Korea’s Naver (OTCMKTS:NHNCF) and from Gmarket, which is owned by eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY). Amazon itself has not yet set up shop in Seoul, believing the delivery market there too competitive.
The Dark Side
There’s a dark side to Coupang’s growth. Creating this value can be hard on workers. After a firefighter was killed in a fire at a Coupang warehouse last year, it faced consumer boycotts over safety and working conditions.
Coupang has been accused of manipulating search results, putting its private label products ahead of those of suppliers. It’s also accused of bullying suppliers into giving it their lowest prices.
The company’s efforts to expand into Japan and Taiwan are also expensive.
Buying the Dip
Right after its IPO last March, founder Bom Kim was said to be worth $8.9 billion. Assuming his stake remains the same, his fortune is now below $4.5 billion. Shareholder losses accelerated after Softbank’s (OTCMKTS:SFTBY) Vision Fund, one of the original funders, sold $1.7 billion in shares in September.
You might be tempted to buy the dip, as our Faisal Humayun has suggested. At its current price of $23, the market cap is $40.2 billion on what should be 2021 sales of $17 billion.
That’s cheap for a tech stock. The average price target among CPNG analysts is $31. Humayun notes that at the end of September, Coupang had $3.9 billion in cash and equivalents on its books. It can sustain the current level of losses.
Humayun is not the only analyst recommending Coupang. Its leadership within the Korean market has many expecting great things.
The Bottom Line on CPNG Stock
If I were Korean, or had Korean friends, I might be tempted to buy Coupang here.
I’m not and I don’t. There are also lots of American tech companies, whose products I know and whose businesses I understand, that I could buy. Amazon, for instance, is looking cheap.
Why buy what you don’t understand when things that you do know are on sale? I may be wrong here, but it’s foolish to speculate when stocks I know are just waiting to be bought.
On the date of publication, Dana Blankenhorn held long positions in BABA and AMZN. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.
Dana Blankenhorn has been a financial and technology journalist since 1978. He is the author of Technology’s Big Bang: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Moore’s Law, available at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at [email protected], tweet him at @danablankenhorn, or subscribe to his Substack.
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