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e-Commerce Stock Update - March 2014 (pt. 2)

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Although retail ecommerce is the segment that most of us are interested in, it is in fact just a part of the overall ecommerce market. Retailers and service providers generate just 4.7% and 3.0%, respectively of their revenues online, a slightly higher percentage than they did in the prior year. The U.S. Census Bureau categorizes these two segments as business-to-consumer.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the manufacturing sector is the largest contributor to e-commerce sales (49.3% of their total shipments), followed by merchant wholesalers (24.3% of their total sales). These two segments make up the business-to-business category.

This places the business-to-business category at 90% of total ecommerce sales, with the balance coming from the business-to-consumer category. The latest numbers from the Bureau suggest that the fastest-growing segments were retail and wholesale. [All the above data from the U.S. Census Bureau relate to 2011, as published in May 2013.]

The industry is evolving very rapidly, so data collection and evaluation are particularly difficult. Consequently, one has to rely largely on surveys by both government and private agencies.

In this section, we will discuss segments of the ecommerce market than do not relate directly to the retail of goods, and focus instead on travel, payments, security and advertising.


The U.S. Commerce Department expects international travel to the U.S. to continue increasing over the next few years. Visitor volume is currently expected to increase 3.7-4.2% a year from 2013 to 2017 leading to a 26% increase in the number of users by 2018. Visitors from the Caribbean are expected to be the slowest-growing (1%). The Middle East, Asia and South America are expected to grow 67%, 60% and 52%, respectively.

The fastest growth is expected to come from China (229%), Saudi Arabia (191%), Russian Federation (79%), Brazil (66%), Argentina (65%) and Columbia (54%).

The Travel and Tourism industry remains one of the country’s strongest industries, although the third quarter of 2013 (latest available data) saw a deceleration in its growth rate. According to the BEA, lower air passenger travel as well as all other transportation-related commodities affected the industry during the quarter. As a result, the industry grew 2.5% in the quarter, below the real GDP growth of 3.6% (in the second quarter it grew 3.5% compared to GDP growth of 2.5%).

The top travel booking sites are,,,, (acquired by Priceline),, and Since and Kayak are part of Priceline (PCLN) and both and part of Expedia (EXPE - Free Report) , this narrows down the top companies in the segment to Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz Worldwide (OWW) and Travelocity. However, there are several others worth considering that include Ctrip International (CTRP), MakeMyTrip (MMYT - Free Report) , TripAdvisor (TRIP - Free Report) , which was spun off from Expedia, and Qunar (QUNR), which recently had its IPO.

Global outbound trips grew 4% in the first eight months of 2013 and are expected to grow 4-5% this year. The Asia/Pacific region is expected to see the strongest growth (up 9%), with China alone growing 18%. South America will follow with 6% growth followed by Europe at 3-4% and North America thereafter at 3% [World Travel Monitor 2013].

According to the TravelClick North American Hospitality Review (NAHR), both occupancy and average daily rates (ADRs) in North America have been growing steadily through the end of 2013 and into 2014. The occupancy rate for 2013 was flattish in the Group segment and up across most categories within the Transient segment, with the only weakness attributable to government spending. The ADR increased across all categories and was helped by much stronger leisure spending. The trends going into 2014 were positive for both occupancy and ADR.

Online travel agents (OTAs) continue to grow the fastest: up 15.2% in 2013, according to TravelClick. The hotels’ own websites were up 7.6%, with direct walk-ins and calls to the hotel down 0.4% and 4.3%, respectively. The global distribution system used by travel agents was up 3.5%.

Share of room nights based on actual reservations in 2013:


Smartphones are playing a key role in travel purchases, especially for last minute purchases. eMarketer estimates for smartphone travel researchers in the U.S. show the segment touching 50 million or 40% of all digital travel researchers in 2013, with total U.S. mobile travel sales touching $13.6 billion. Overall growth in digital travel sales is expected to moderate this year, with non-travel sales escalating. Mexico, India, Spain, Italy and Norway are expected to have the highest shares of digital travel sales in the next five years, with Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Italy being the fastest growers.

The top site for travel content is TripAdvisor, visited by 60% of Americans when choosing a hotel. Google’s (GOOG) YouTube is now growing in popularity and is the second in line, according to MMGY Global's 2013 Portrait of American Travelers study.

Another report by PhocusWright mentioned that when online penetration of the travel market reached 35% in any country, growth rates were likely to slow down to single-digits. The research firm mentioned that only the U.S., U.K. and Scandinavia had reached this level of penetration and most other markets across Europe, Asia and Latin America would continue to show good growth rates.

Payment Systems

With practically all market research indicating solid growth in ecommerce sales over the next few years, online players are vying with each other to come out with convenient and secure payment solutions. There are a host of payment systems in the market, but the greatest progress has been made on near field communication (NFC), quick response (QR) code, Soundwave and Bluetooth low energy (BLE).

The latest to enter the fray is Amazon (AMZN) with its "Login and Pay with Amazon" system. Recognizing the most-used mobile and computing platforms, the system works on any desktop or tablets/smartphones running Android or iOS operating systems. Amazon’s payment system is likely to be popular with retailers given its huge customer base. For Amazon, it will also facilitate further data collection and position it strongly versus eBay’s (EBAY) Paypal and Google’s Digital Wallet.

By far the most successful mobile payment system is Paypal, which has come a long way from a mere online payment service. Last year, the company inked a deal with Discover Network (DFS), the fourth largest credit card company, bringing its seven million plus retailers onto the Paypal network. Paypal has also signed up a large number of traditional retailers such as The Home Depot (HD - Free Report) and Office Depot (OD). The company is now selling its marketing services as a bundled solution to retailers and the success of this strategy is evident in Paypal’s growth numbers.

The new digital wallet from Google enables in-app purchase and mobile payments in addition to PoS purchases and money transfer. Other than the credit and debit card information, users can now store loyalty cards, discount coupons and offers that they can apply during purchase. More importantly, Google has found a way to reduce its dependence on NFC technology. A non-NFC-enabled phone can now use the Wallet to transfer funds from any of the accounts saved in it.

Google now requires app developers for the Android platform to compulsorily use its payment service instead of a competing service from eBay or others. Despite the strong growth in Android devices, Google Play (its app store) has not done that well, partly because of the many steps to conversion that turns customers away. The simplification of the checkout process should help sales on Google Play.

Apple (AAPL) has removed NFC compatibility from its devices and also introduced iBeacon, which is a BLE technology. The technology tracks the approximate location of a person, the time spent at different stores and even the location within the store. It has the potential to push highly relevant offers and promos at opportune moments.

Apple has accumulated a large number of patents for payment processing and it’s very likely that that iBeacon will be rolled into its very own iWallet. Payments on its platform are currently handled by its Passbook system. Apple is one of the largest online retailers although it also sells through traditional retail outlets, so a payment platform from Apple may be expected to catch on very fast.

The FIS Mobile Wallet from Fidelity National Information Services Inc. (FIS - Free Report) is basically a bar code reader that feeds information related to the purchase into the user’s smartphone and uses it as a medium to transfer the information to the cloud. Online purchase of merchandise is also possible. The solution provides good security, since the transaction is carried out entirely in the cloud through the retailer’s and banker’s applications and personal information is not shared at the time of purchase.

Visa (V - Free Report) has also jumped on the bandwagon, claiming that its is a digital wallet with a difference. Not only can it be used to make mobile contactless payments (bar code, QR code or NFC), but it can also be used for online checkout (it remembers card details from several providers).

Mobile banking is set to grow very strongly over the next few years, according to Juniper Research. The research firm estimates that a billion mobile devices (or 15% of the installed base) will be used for banking transactions by 2017, up from an expected 590 million in 2013.

Most banks already have at least one mobile banking offering, with some larger banks offering more than one option. Messaging remains most popular across the world, but apps are likely to remain the preferred channel in most developed markets.

Mobile banking has not picked up sufficiently in either the U.S. or Canada, due to security-related concerns. However, an analysis by Deloitte shows that mobile banking could become the most-preferred banking method by 2020. The study estimates that 20-25 million Generation-Y consumers will become new banking customers by 2015.

It is believed that high smartphone penetration, higher income and greater digital sophistication will drive increased demand for mobile banking services. Since mobile banking is expected to be the most cost efficient for banks, investment in technology to improve and expand mobile banking services is likely to increase.


With online transactions expected to boom over the next few years, the topmost concern remains security. While banks will spend significantly on secure payment systems, hackers are expected to have a field day, largely targeting the flood of customers going online. Last year saw a huge increase in security breaches, something that may be expected to continue.

Recent research from McAfee revealed certain important facts: first, that mobile malware was primarily spreading through apps; second, 75% of infected apps came from Google Play; third, the chances of downloading malware or suspicious URLs was 1 in 6; fourth, 40% of malware families disrupt the system in more than one way, which is an indication of the increasing sophistication of hackers; and fifth, 23% of mobile spyware can result in data loss.

What is even more alarming is that even “secure” payment platforms like digital wallets using NFC technology can now be infected by worms within close range of devices (“bump and infect”). An infected device can give out personal information during the payment process that can be used to steal from the wallet.

Mobile security offerings currently come from AirWatch, Apple, Avast, Check Point, Cisco (CSCO), IBM (IBM - Free Report) , Juniper (JNPR - Free Report) , Kaspersky, McAfee, Microsoft (MSFT - Free Report) , MobileIron, BlackBerry (BBRY), Symantec (SYMC - Free Report) and Trend Micro, among others.

Alternative payment systems will continue to gain popularity. While some of these payment systems, such as PayPal, have been around for a while, other systems, such as Google’s digital wallet, and the FIS Mobile Wallet are still in the making. Alternative payment systems never really gained momentum in the past because of the low volume of transactions. However, as online transactions continue to increase, many more such systems could suddenly become available.

We expect mobile security to become a major focus area for technology companies, since this is the stumbling block to payments through the mobile platform (currently just 2% of U.S. online spending).

Digital Advertising

The U.S. digital advertising market has seen some very strong growth in the past few years, such that the discussion has shifted to its most effective channel, which is mobile. eMarketer estimates that while the total digital ad market will grow 47.6% from 2013 to 2017, mobile will grow 271.0%, with desktop declining 17.5%.

Total growth rates are expected to continue declining: 12.6% in 2014, 10.3% in 2015, 9.2% in 2016 and 7.1% in 2017. Retail, financial services, consumer packaged goods (CPG) and travel in that order, are expected to drive this growth. The mobile platform will remain particularly strong, growing 56.0% in 2014, 41.8% in 2015, 33.1% in 2016 and 26.0% in 2017. Spending on mobile ads is expected to increase as a percentage of total spending on digital as well as total media ads in each of the years.

The current strength in online advertising is coming primarily from the growing popularity of the display format. Of all the forms of online advertising, display (including video, banner ads, rich media and sponsorships) is expected to see the strongest growth over the next few years. The underlying drivers of growth of the display format are the continued increase in the number of users, greater propensity of users to consume online, a growing inventory of advertisements that serve to lower advertisement prices and the need to create brand awareness online.

Google’s YouTube leads in the video segment. The increasing propensity to use programmatic buying techniques (automating the inventory buying process) is hurting both Google’s and Yahoo’s (YHOO) premium placements. Yahoo is currently focusing on the content side of things in order to boost ad revenue. Facebook (FB - Free Report) on the other hand has more relevant personal data, which advertisers like. It is also very strong on the mobile platform, which has been driving its results in recent times.

While digital advertising spend has been moving to non-search portals, such as Facebook, search is likely to remain relevant and important. Google is the leader here and is using its other technologies (maps, voice, devices) to make its services more invaluable to users. Its Enhanced Campaigns strategy that seeks to integrate ad campaigns across platforms is also bearing fruit, as it is proving more profitable for advertisers.

Search advertising results are measurable, and therefore more predictable, than other media. This also makes the market more resilient in recessionary conditions, since advertisers are more confident about the results of their spending.

Since ecommerce entails the buying and selling of goods or services over electronic systems, it includes companies that are totally dependent on these sales, those that are gradually moving to it, as well as those that want to use it partially. Therefore, the biggest sellers or the ones growing the strongest are not necessarily those that are solely dependent on the Internet.

The following diagrams seek to explain the position of companies primarily dependent on the Internet for the distribution of their goods and services in the context of the Zacks Industry Rank. Two (Retail/Wholesale and Computer & Technology) of the 16 broad Zacks sectors are related to the ecommerce industry as depicted below.

We rank the 264 industries across the 16 Zacks sectors based on the earnings outlook and fundamental strength of the constituent companies in each industry. To learn more visit: About Zacks Industry Rank.

The outlook for industries positioned at #88 or lower is 'Positive,' between #89 and #176 is 'Neutral' and #177 and higher is 'Negative.'

Therefore, Internet Services – Delivery and Internet Commerce being in the 212th and 233rd positions, respectively are in negative territory, with Internet Services (102nd position) being neutral.

So it is not surprising that the average rank of stocks in the Internet Services – Delivery industry is 3.29, for Internet Commerce, it is 3.37, while for Internet Services it is 3.00. [Note: Zacks Rank #1 denotes Strong Buy, #2 is Buy, #3 means Hold, #4 Sell and #5 Strong Sell].

Earnings Trends

The broader Retail/Wholesale sector, of which Internet Commerce is a part, should have a moderate quarter. With roughly half the companies having reported thus far, the earnings beat ratio is 56.5% although the revenue beat ratio is much lower at 30.1%.

Total earnings for the sector have increased 0.3% in the fourth quarter on revenue growth of 3.9%. This contrasts with an earnings growth of 10.3% based on revenue growth of 3.8% in the preceding quarter. This seems to indicate heavy discounts typical of the holiday season.

The other companies we are discussing in the e-commerce outlook (Part 2) fall under the broader Technology sector. Here we see a fairly strong earnings beat ratio of 86.7%, supported by a revenue beat ratio of 73.3%.

Total earnings in the sector were up 5.3% year over year similar to the 5.6% increase in the third quarter. Total revenues increased 5.2% from last year, up from 3.2% in the third quarter. The trend appears positive.

Earnings estimates for 2013 and 2014 indicate better growth prospects in both years for Retail/Wholesale and Technology.


The sector is under pressure right now, so we see very few opportunities. Most of the companies are dealing with significant investments or other growth-related issues, so it is hard get enthusiastic.

The only stock that is worth recommending in this environment is Facebook. The company has seen its ad revenues swell, despite fears of reducing teen engagement and poorer-than-expected conversion for advertisers. Importantly, the company continues to innovate, frequently enhancing and/or making relevant changes to its platform. Therefore, one can’t ignore the strong growth numbers and resultant surge in estimates.


On the other hand, we don’t see many significant weaknesses either.

For instance, Chinese travel company Ctrip (CTRP) is seeing tremendous growth fueled by a growing middle class and increased consumerism in China, the shift from traditional to online media for booking travel and increased mobile usage. The company also reported solid results and provided strong revenue guidance. However, we are unable to recommend the shares because it is currently in investment mode to build position in the super-competitive Chinese market and has also bought ToursForFun a U.S. OTA to tap growth in the region.

Similar is the case with Baidu (BIDU), the dominant search engine company of China. Baidu is the Google of China with tremendous opportunities. The company has been investing in the business to build a position in the mobile and video segments and the company is already seeing growing monetization on mobile. While integration of recent acquisitions and investment considerations could be a slight headwind in the next few quarters, the company is clearly moving in the right direction.

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