Alibaba cuts sales forecast on economic uncertainty, trade fears

Alibaba
A monitor displays Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. signage on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd lowered its full-year sales forecast on Friday due to concerns about the economic impact of a U.S.-China trade spat, which the company expects will dent revenue ahead of its top sale season.

Asia’s most valuable public company said it will cut its full-year revenue forecast to between 375 billion and 383 billion yuan ($54.4 bln-$55.6 bln), a 4-6 percent drop, while sales growth in its core commerce business for the September quarter slowed to its lowest rate since 2016.

In a call with analysts on Friday, executives said big ticket purchases could be affected by economic uncertainty and that they will delay efforts to make more money on some aspects of its marketplaces in an effort to retain businesses on its platform.

“In light of current fluid macro-economic conditions, we have recently decided not to monetize, in the near term, incremental inventory generated from growing users and engagement on our China retail marketplaces,” said Alibaba in a statement.

The company’s U.S.-listed stock edged up 0.4 percent to $151.81 by 1346 GMT, but is down more than 12 percent this year amid a wider sell-off of China tech stocks that has also affected Baidu Inc and Tencent Holdings Ltd.

The decision to take in less income from its platforms comes ahead of Singles’ Day, Alibaba’s annual mega-sale event, which peaks on Nov. 11 and last year netted the company over $25 billion in sales.

Alibaba competes fiercely for customers and merchants during the event, and has historically recorded much higher marketing costs around the event, which also eats into sales from the first and third quarter.

Ahead of the event, sales growth on the company’s China retail marketplaces in the third quarter slowed to 37 percent, its weakest growth rate in eleven quarters.

The company has been investing heavily in offline retail and rural e-commerce in a bid to win new customers as China’s urban market shows signs of saturation.

Roughly 75 percent of Alibaba’s new users last quarter were from undeveloped areas, said Chief Financial Officer Maggie Wu.

Analysts said the impact of trade tensions and tighter regulation in China, including new rules on advertising and online finance, will continue to weigh on the company’s share price for some time.

“China macro uncertainty has been driving stock price performance for the group as a whole since mid-June. We think this will need to reconcile before there is a sustainable improvement in sentiment,” Rob Sanderson, senior research analyst and managing director at MKM Partners, said in a note ahead of the earnings.

At a recent event, Chairman Jack Ma predicted the trade war could last 20 years, and said the company would adapt plans, including scrapping an initiative to create a million jobs in the United States by bringing U.S. producers onto the platform.

Ma said Alibaba was still confident of reaching its goal of 2 billion customers globally by 2036 however, as it continues to build on big-ticket investments in Southeast Asian e-commerce, global cloud services and projects to reach more buyers outside big cities.

The company’s stock also weakened recently on news that Ma will step down over the coming year, handing over the reins to Chief Executive Daniel Zhang.

Despite the weak forecast, net income attributable to ordinary shareholders rose 13 percent to 20.03 billion yuan, or 6.78 yuan per share, above analyst estimates.

Outside of the company’s commerce business, revenue from cloud computing grew 90.5 percent to 5.67 billion yuan while sales in the company’s entertainment and digital media business rose 24 percent to 5.94 billion yuan.

Reuters