Alibaba targets 30% revenue growth after posting first loss since 2012

The company recorded sales worth 187.4bn yuan during the three months ended on March

Alibaba registered better than expected sales during the three moths ended March. Bloomberg  
Alibaba registered better than expected sales during the three moths ended March. Bloomberg  

Alibaba Group Holding forecast 2022 revenue that beat estimates, signaling it’s moving past an antitrust investigation that dragged it into the red for the first time in nine years.

Jack Ma’s flagship e-commerce company forecast revenue for the year ending March 2022 will rise at least 30 per cent to more than 930 billion yuan ($144 billion), beating the 923.5bn yuan average seen by analysts. That’s a deceleration from the previous year’s 41 per cent.

Sales for the three months ended on March was a better-than-expected 187.4bn yuan, but it swung to a 5.5bn yuan net loss – its first since 2012 –after the company swallowed a $2.8bn fine for monopolistic behaviour imposed by Beijing.

Executives have sought to put behind them a crackdown on Mr Ma’s internet empire that’s shaved $260bn off the Chinese internet behemoth’s market value. The $2.8bn fine marked the conclusion of a four-month probe, but the threat of future action will likely cast a shadow over Alibaba’s business for some time.

Following the fine, Alibaba joined 33 other tech companies in pledging to abide by monopoly laws and eradicate abuses like forced exclusivity agreements. The government has also pushed for greater control over the invaluable online data amassed by its internet companies that have enabled their meteoric expansion over the past decade. Antitrust watchdogs are screening its previous investments and could force a divestment if deemed in violation of regulations.

Alibaba’s regulatory overhang may lift with China’s $2.8bn fine in April potentially marking an end to the worst of the scrutiny that began in late 2020, Bloomberg analysts Vey-Sern Ling and Tiffany Tam said.

Meanwhile it could continue to benefit from the accelerated user and merchant adoption of its online grocery shopping, cloud computing and remote-work applications in the aftermath of the pandemic. Longer-term sales and profit growth could be driven by global expansion and the monetisation of newer business segments such as logistics, media and entertainment, they said

Alibaba is keen to convey the impression that it’s back to business as normal. Mr Ma was spotted this week at an annual staff and family celebration at its sprawling Hangzhou campus, where kids played in ball pits while company mascots posed for photos with employees in cosplay.

But several key issues remain unresolved as China continues to rein in Alibaba and its increasingly powerful rivals from Tencent Holdings to Meituan.

Alibaba’s finance affiliate – Ant Group, a major provider of financing for Alibaba’s consumers – is still wrangling with regulators over a forced restructuring that could curb its lending.

Beijing is debating how it will regulate control and ownership of online data, core to Alibaba’s competitive advantage. And finally, the government is said to be considering whether to compel Alibaba to shed media assets that have supported its brand.

Its shares fell 3.2 per cent in Hong Kong before the results were released. The stock is down 31 per cent from its October peak, just before regulators jettisoned Ant’s $35bn initial public offering and launched its probe into the company.

Alibaba is trying to resume business as normal just as competition ramps up in China’s e-commerce market. Pinduoduo reported 788 million annual active buyers last quarter, dethroning Alibaba as China’s biggest e-commerce operator by consumers for the first time ever.

Scrappy upstarts like ByteDance and Kuaishou Technology are making inroads into social shopping, chipping away at the growth of its Taobao Live service. Other platforms like Meituan, Didi and Tencent Holdings -backed MissFresh have made aggressive investments into their community groceries business, leaving the Hangzhou-based Alibaba to play catch-up in the red-hot sector.

Affiliate Ant Group’s profit in the December quarter – the period during which authorities imposed new rules on micro-lending and scrapped the firm’s initial public offering – rose to 21.8bn yuan, up 50 per cent from 14.5bn yuan in the previous three months. It contributed nearly 7.2bn yuan to Alibaba’s earnings.

Published: May 13, 2021 04:55 PM

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