SINGAPORE (Mar 25): Can you name a large-cap, Amazon-lookalike e-commerce stock that has risen more than 3,700% since its IPO in 2007, or 400% since late 2015, and is still up 66% this year? I’ll make it a little easier. No point searching for it in China because it is neither a competitor to Alibaba Group Holding nor an affiliate of Tencent Holdings. With a market capitalisation of US$22 billion ($29.7 billion), that company is MercadoLibre, the largest listed e-commerce player in Latin America.
Mercado is Spanish for “marketplace” and Libre means “free”. Founded in 1999 by Marcos Galperin, an Argentinian student at Stanford University at the time, MercadoLibre is based in Buenos Aires, incorporated in Delaware and listed on the tech-heavy Nasdaq. It is essentially an online marketplace where you are at liberty to buy or sell whatever and whenever you want. Originally modelled after eBay, which once had a 20% stake in it, its MercadoLibre.com portal is the main online auction site for the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking communities in Latin America, and operates in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay and other countries in the region, including troubled Venezuela.
Although it is based in Argentina, more than half of the company’s revenues are derived from Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy. Over the years, it has morphed into something akin to Alibaba’s T-Mall and Taobao marketplaces, with a PayPal-like payment system to facilitate and grow e-commerce in a continent in which financial inclusion is still a big issue.