Gaming the Asian net
Tempted by the hot new stocks of the Far East? Be ready for a wild ride.
by Abrahm Lustgarten, FORTUNE Magazine

(FORTUNE Magazine) - It's Internet boom time in Asia. From India to Korea, a robust online ad market is coming to life, gaming is huge, and tens of millions are connecting to the web at a rapid rate.

Not surprisingly, all this has launched a new generation of upstart, publicly traded web portals, e-commerce sites, and wireless download companies maneuvering to take advantage. The trouble is, prices for these stocks are high--and mighty unpredictable.

"It's one of the fastest-growing and least tapped markets in the world," says New York Global Securities analyst Andrew Collier, who covers China's web. "It's also among the most volatile."

Look at Ctrip, China's homegrown version of Travelocity. Right now less than 5% of bookings in China happen online. Lehman Bros. analyst Sun Lu predicts Ctrip's share of that growing market will double.

But Ctrip (Research) (CTRP, $45), with just $65 million in revenue, already boasts a $1.5 billion market cap--a racy 23 times sales. Another hot but risky play: India's Sify (Research) (SIFY, $12), an e-commerce site and broadband service provider, among other things. Only 40 million Indians use the Internet, and the company is just turning profitable. But the stock has already jumped 300% since last May and trades at a lofty forward P/E of 42.

This frothy environment suggests that a mutual fund might be the most prudent way to access this arena. The Matthews Asian Technology fund, managed by Michael Oh, features a 38% three-year return and has 16% of its portfolio in net stocks. Among the top holdings: Korea's NHN (NHN, $358 Kosdaq), which sells blockbuster games. "Take a risk-adjusted approach and balance it out," says Oh. "Long-term potential is there." Top of page

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