LexinFintech Holdings: All Eyes On Regulatory Risks (NASDAQ:LX)

Elevator Pitch

I assign a Neutral rating to Chinese online consumer finance company LexinFintech Holdings Ltd. (LX).

LexinFintech is differentiated from most of its online consumer finance peers in multiple ways, such as its customer base, consumption focus, funding sources, and proprietary technologies. However, the interest rate cap on consumer lending in China has been lowered, which could potentially hurt LexinFintech’s profitability, and this brings regulatory risks for the company and its peers into the spotlight. LexinFintech trades at 10.7 times consensus forward FY 2020 P/E and 4.0 times consensus forward FY 2021 P/E.

Company Description

Established in October 2013 and listed in December 2017, LexinFintech refers to itself as a “leading online consumption and consumer finance platform for new generation consumers in China” offering various services, including “financial technology services, membership benefits, and a point redemption system through its ecommerce platform Fenqile and membership platform Le Card,in its press releases.

Business Overview And Key Metrics

(Source: LexinFintech’s September 2020 Investor Presentation Slides)

The company is differentiated from most of its online consumer finance peers in multiple ways, which is discussed in greater detail in subsequent sections of this article.

Targeting Young Adults

LexinFintech targets young adults in China, more specifically, students studying at tertiary institutions, recent graduates or those who recently entered the workplace.

As of June 30, 2020, the company has 95.3 million registered users, of which 22.7 million users have a credit line, and 6.8 million of them are active users. Active users are “users who made at least one transaction during that period through our platform or through our third party partners’ platforms using credit line granted by us,” as defined by LexinFintech.

It is noteworthy that the average age of LexinFintech’s customers is 25 years old as of end-2Q 2020. Arguably, young adults are the best customers that online consumer finance companies can have, since they are the stage of their lives where they will be spending a lot (yet do not have the income to match that) and need to maintain a good credit rating (i.e., no defaults) for future borrowings.

At the business update call on September 16, 2020, LexinFintech stressed that its customers “are fundamentally different” and “younger”, and “we typically offer better credit limits, higher amounts to these customers.” The company’s average credit limit for customers in the second quarter of 2020 was a relatively high RMB10,000.

A Diverse Range Of Products Focused On Consumption

LexinFintech offers a diverse range of products focused on consumption, and this is closely linked to the company’s customer base comprising mainly of young adults who have a strong desire to spend.

Rather than simply offering loans and credit, it has an e-commerce platform (Gross Merchandise Value of RMB2.6 billion in 1H 2020) and mobile app called Fenqile which offers various products for sale which can be paid in installments. In addition, the company has a two million-strong membership base (membership fees are another source of revenue), and its virtual credit card Lehua Card which contributed RMB22.2 billion in loan originations (or close to 30% of total loan originations) in the first half of this year.

LexinFintech’s Products And How They Are Linked To Daily Consumption Activities

(Source: LexinFintech’s September 2020 Investor Presentation Slides)

LexinFintech noted at the 2Q 2020 earnings call on August 18, 2020 that its consumption-focused product strategy is to cover “all the consumption scenarios is that it enables us to literally see how our customers eat, sleep, live” with the aim of improving “the stickiness of the customers.” The company also emphasized at the earnings call that there is still room for growth in terms of providing more products and services focused on consumption, as “the amounts that we can provide financial services to is probably limited at this point to just over 20%” of its 95.3 million registered users.

Relatively Low Funding Cost Relying On Institutional Funding

LexinFintech’s funding cost has been declining over the past few years, and it reached a new record low of 7.7% in 2Q 2020. This is mainly attributable to the fact that it is able to access relatively cheaper wholesale funding from institutions such as banks and insurance companies with its micro-finance license. In contrast, most peer-to-peer lenders are reliant on more expensive funding from individuals. Also, LexinFintech has continued to optimize its funding mix over the years. While the company used to source two-thirds of its funds from individuals in 2016, institutions now contribute substantially all of its funding.

Funding Cost

(Source: LexinFintech’s September 2020 Investor Presentation Slides)

Funding Source

(Source: LexinFintech’s September 2020 Investor Presentation Slides)

Looking ahead, LexinFintech guided at its recent 2Q 2020 earnings call that it expects its funding cost to continue to decline going forward, but the pace of decline might slow in the near term, as “we certainly already have one of the better funding costs and better deals from the banks out there.”

Proprietary Technologies

In a recent book on the Chinese fintech sector published by Columbia Business School in August 2020 titled “China’s Fintech Explosion”, authors Sara Hsu and Jianjun Li make special mention of LexinFintech. In the book, it is noted that the company “uses proprietary technology to trace back bad credit and identify risks” and artificial intelligence “helps firm managers assess risks properly using location information and social network activity as fraudulent users tend to congregate.”

Company’s Credit Risk Management And Credit Approval System Referred To As Hawkeye Engine

(Source: LexinFintech’s September 2020 Investor Presentation Slides)

Company’s Funding And Capital Allocation System Known As Wormhole

(Source: LexinFintech’s September 2020 Investor Presentation Slides)

The numbers speak for themselves. Hawkeye Engine, LexinFintech’s credit risk management & credit approval system, processes 99.8% of loan applications automatically, while Wormhole, its funding & capital allocation system, boasts a 93% success rate with respect to matching of funds.

Regulatory Risks And Interest Rate Cap In The Spotlight

Similar to many online consumer finance companies operating in different parts of the world, LexinFintech faces significant regulatory risks in its home market, China. A recent Bloomberg report on interest rate caps in China has brought regulatory risks for LexinFintech and its peers into the spotlight again.

Bloomberg reported on September 6, 2020 that China’s Supreme Court has issued a new interest rate cap on consumer lending equivalent to “four times the benchmark Loan Prime Rate,” or approximately 15.4%, as compared to “a range of 24% to 36% under a previous judicial interpretation in 2015.” It is uncertain if this new interest rate cap, which will hurt the profitability of lenders, will be applicable to online consumer finance companies such as LexinFintech.

Specifically, online consumer finance companies could face issues with charging overdue fees. Overdue fees have been an effective deterrent against late payment in the past, when overdue fees were charged at significantly higher rate compared with existing lending rates. This might not be possible going forward given the narrow difference between online consumer finance companies’ average lending rates and the new interest rate cap.

In response, LexinFintech organized a business update call for analysts and investors on September 16, 2020 to address such concerns.

At the call, LexinFintech highlighted that its current numbers are below the new interest rate cap. The company’s average interest rates were 13.6% and 14.5% for 1Q 2020 and 2Q 2020, respectively, based on the court’s definition of nominal Annual Percentage Rate, or APR. LexinFintech stressed that “we don’t see any particularly significant impact from this (new interest rate cap),” and “we are pretty confident in terms of our ability” to meet “the financial goals for this year.”

However, the company did acknowledge that it needed to make changes to certain products with higher rates, and it also mentioned that fee-based income (e.g. membership fees) could help to offset some of the negative impact of reduced rates.

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that LexinFintech noted at its recent call on September 16, 2020 that the Supreme Court’s decision to lower the interest rate cap was made with the aim to “lower the cost of funding for the society as a whole.” This suggests that the Chinese authorities are determined to lower interest costs to boost consumer spending and economic growth, and online finance companies such as LexinFintech could be subject to further regulatory risks going forward.

Valuation And Risk Factors

LexinFintech trades at consensus forward FY 2020 and FY 2021 P/E multiples of 10.7 times and 4.0 times, respectively. Sell-side analysts expect the company to achieve ROEs of 16.8% and 32.1% for FY 2020 and FY 2021, respectively.

As per the peer valuation comparison, LexinFintech is the most expensive among its peers based on consensus forward FY 2021 P/E, but this is justified by the company’s high consensus forward ROE of 32.1% for FY 2021 and its differentiating factors highlighted above.

Peer Valuation Comparison For LexinFintech

Stock Consensus Current Year P/E Consensus Forward One-Year P/E Consensus Current Year ROE Consensus Forward One-Year ROE
Yiren Digital (YRD) 5.1 3.7 10.6% 12.1%
Qudian (QD) 30.7 2.9 0.7% 6.7%
FinVolution Group (FINV) 2.8 2.9 18.4% 15.5%
360 DigiTech (QFIN) 4.3 2.9 33.9% 30.2%
Jianpu Technology (JT) 3.2 1.1 17.4% 31.1%

(Source: Author)

The key risk factors for LexinFintech are weaker-than-expected economic growth in China leading to lower-than-expected consumption demand, and new regulations which are negative for the Chinese online consumer finance sector, such as the recent lowering of the interest rate cap.

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Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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