Alibaba boosts share buy back as revenues miss estimates

By Casey Hall and Harshita Mary Varghese

SHANGHAI (Reuters) -China’s Alibaba Group Holding on Wednesday missed analysts’ estimates for third-quarter revenue, hurt by a weak retail environment and faltering economic recovery in the world’s second-largest economy.

U.S.-listed shares of Alibaba fell 4% in early trading after the company flagged an increase of $25 billion to its share repurchase program through the end of March 2027.

Alibaba is under pressure as consumers in China, have been cutting spending, boosting rival lower-cost domestic e-commerce players such as PDD Holdings.

The group announced the split of its business into six units last March in a transition overseen by co-founders CEO Eddie Wu and Chairman Joe Tsai. Wu, group CEO since September, will directly oversee the domestic e-commerce arm.

“Our top priority is to reignite the growth of our core businesses, e-commerce and cloud computing,” Wu said on Wednesday.

Alibaba’s net income attributable to ordinary shareholders was 14.4 billion yuan ($2 billion) and net income was 10.7 billion yuan ($1.51 billion), a decrease of 77% primarily due to valuation changes from equity investments and impairments related to hypermarket operator Sun Art and online video streaming service Youku.

Taobao and Tmall Group revenue grew only 2% for the quarter, which includes year-end sales events such as Singles Day that have traditionally provided a boost for the online shopping sites.

Executives on a post-earnings call said there was early evidence of a recovery in Taobao and Tmall Group’s gross merchandise volume or GMV.

“Our strategy is focused on increasing purchasing frequency, if we do that we will achieve better GMV growth,” Wu said.

Rival PDD, which owns Pinduoduo and overseas-focused platform Temu, overtook Alibaba on Dec. 1 to become the most valuable Chinese e-commerce company after Morgan Stanley downgraded Alibaba on concerns over a slower turnaround in its cloud business and customer management revenue.

Alibaba scrapped plans to spin off its cloud business last year, citing uncertainties over U.S. curbs on exports to China of chips used in artificial intelligence applications, in a big blow to its market value at the time.

This quarter, executives also seemed cool about the near-term potential of public offering prospects for its Cainiao logistics and its grocery business Freshippo, saying that these IPOs had always been subject to market conditions and conditions currently were not in a state to reflect the intrinsic value of these businesses. Last week, sources told Reuters that Alibaba was looking to sell a number of consumer sector assets, including Freshippo, which has been locked in a price war with Walmart’s membership chain Sam’s Club, leading both sides to cut prices on popular items.

A Freshippo spokesperson has denied the reports of a potential sale.

On a call with analysts following earnings, Alibaba chairman Joe Tsai said it “makes sense” to exit some of the traditional physical retail businesses on its balance sheet, “but it will take time due to challenging market conditions”.

Alibaba’s International Digital Commerce segment, which operates various retail and wholesale marketplaces including AliExpress and, performed strongly, with AliExpress orders rising 60% on the year.

“There is huge potential for AIDC (Alibaba International Digital Commerce) to increase penetration in many markets,” said AIDC’s chief executive Jiang Fan on the call with analysts.

($1 = 7.1941 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Harshita Varghese, Savyata Mishra and Casey Hall; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Sriraj Kalluvila, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Louise Heavens, Elaine Hardcastle)