E-commerce giant Alibaba beats revenue forecast as Chinese regulators hover

Alibaba shares decline despite strong earnings

Ti Gong

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. said an extended shopping event in November helped boost its profit and sales for the last three months of 2020, a period that also saw the technology giant and its founder attracting scrutiny from Chinese regulators.

Despite the pressure from Chinese authorities, Alibaba benefited from economic activity and online spending accelerating in China.

Alibaba posted net income attributable to ordinary shareholders of 79.43 billion yuan, compared with 52.31 billion yuan in the comparable quarter a year ago.

"Thanks to the rapid recovery of China's economy, Alibaba had another very healthy quarter", group CEO Daniel Zhang said in a statement.

Revenue rose 37% to 221.08 billion yuan ($34.24 billion) in the three months ended 31 December, above analysts' estimates of 214.38 billion yuan, according IBES data from Refinitiv. In November, Alibaba's China-focused Singles Day sale - the world's biggest online shopping event that eclipses the revenues generated on US shopping holidays Black Friday and Cyber Monday - registered sales of $74 billion.

The Covid-19 pandemic encouraged many Chinese to also have meals delivered to reduce their movements outside.

However, Alibaba noted the setbacks to its online payment subsidiary Ant Group, whose IPO remains on ice.

Despite the agreement with the regulator on revamping Ant, whose businesses include consumer lending and insurance products distribution, the anti-trust probe into Alibaba would continue to cloud the outlook for Ma's empire.

Ma's current woes stem from an October 24 speech in which he blasted China's regulatory system, leading to the suspension of his Ant Group's $37 billion IPO just days before the fintech giant's listing.

Some market participants had been speculating Ant might be forced to spin off portions of its business, which now looks unlikely, said Shujin Chen, Hong Kong-based head of China financial research at Jefferies Financial Group Inc.

The squeeze on one of China's most influential companies is the latest sign that the leadership is ready to deflate the ambitions of big tech firms in a runaway internet sector.

China's most renowned businessman and technology pioneer was notably unnamed in a list of entrepreneurial leaders published by state media.

Beijing has a history of disappearing, investigating and imprisoning financial tycoons who do not toe the party line.

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