NHN, the company behind Naver.com, recently announced 2009 financial results. The company posted annual profit of KRW 540 billion (roughly US$ 540mm) on the revenue of KRW 1.3 trillion (about US$ 1.3 billion). Both figures are all-time high, according to NHN.

NHN's profit rates, about 40% of the revenue, again proves that NHN is one giant cash generating machine. NHN is actually one of the most profitable companies in the whole Korean stock market, across all industries. The biggest contributor of this financial success is of course Naver's dominating market share in the web ads. Fueled by Naver's 60-70% search market share, Naver also sees a healthy market share of 65-70% in the nation's internet ads market.

However, apparently there are some concerns over the company's long term growth potential too. About 1/3 of NHN's profit comes from Hangame's gaming business (Hangame is the online gaming arm of NHN corporation). This is a pretty unique revenue mix; Imagine 1/3 of Google's profits are being generated by games, though clearly Google and NHN are different companies as apples and oranges are. In and of itself, generating huge profits from a gaming business would be perfectly fine; However, the problem is that much of Hangame's profit gets generated from what's called "web board games", or things like Korean poker ("Go-stop"). There are increased social concerns towards these games: As people can exchange virtual currency into real money, these games can become too addictive and potentially become borderline gamling.

Also generating investors' concerns is the under-performance of Naver's overseas operations. Naver has always been criticized as a service that achieved its greatness by monopolizing the Korean market, not by building technological unfair advantage that can also work in other countries. To overcome these concerns, Naver has been trying hard to venture into new markets and move the needles there; However, Naver's current progress in other markets can best be described as "still trying".

Naver is a great company: after all, it's the world's 7th largest internet search provider, a remarkable position given that the majority of its users are only Koreans. But without meaningful signals coming from overseas market, and less dependency of its gaming business on the poker-like games, at least Naver's stock price could stall for a while.

TAG Hangame, ,