Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s earnings lagged estimates after it swallowed a higher tax bill and splurged on the entertainment and cloud computing businesses that’re fueling revenue growth.
China’s biggest e-commerce company posted adjusted earnings-per-share of 4.35 yuan, missing the 4.51 yuan average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That came even as revenue rose at a faster-than-expected 60 percent to 38.6 billion yuan ($5.6 billion). Shares of Alibaba fell as much as 3.9 percent in pre-market trade before recovering.
While Chinese consumption remains strong, the world’s second largest economy showed signs of cooling as retail sales and industrial output growth sputtered in April with regulators cracking down on swelling financial leverage. Alibaba has expanded into new areas in response to a decelerating home economy, buying control of Lazada Group SA to gain a Southeast Asian foothold and waging a price-based war with Tencent Holdings Ltd. in cloud computing services.
“The March quarter is usually a slow season for e-commerce so margins usually come down a bit,” said Ray Zhao, a Shenzhen-based analyst at Guotai Junan Securities Co. “Alibaba is spending a lot to drive growth in video and entertainment.”
It’s also trying to appeal to a growing middle class demanding premium products from Alaskan salmon to New Zealand milk. Growing Chinese affluence is propelling billionaire founder Jack Ma’s international expansion, which include helping a million American businesses tap Chinese consumers and reaching foreign shoppers through AliExpress.
Income tax expenses soared 149 percent to 4.6 billion yuan in the March quarter. Its effective tax rate climbed to 29 percent from 23 percent a year earlier, when the company set aside a portion of its earnings as non-taxable reinvestment capital. Alibaba said it also incurred additional taxes from the sale of certain unspecified investments. The company said Thursday it’s green-lit a $6 billion share buyback program over two years.
The strength of its e-commerce business is helping Alibaba weather losses in newer businesses of cloud computing and digital entertainment. While revenue in those nascent divisions is surging, they are yet to make money.
Core commerce revenue surged 47 percent to 31.57 billion yuan with the business delivering operating income of 16.5 billion yuan, the company said.
While cloud unit revenue doubled in the March quarter to 2.2 billion yuan, the business had an operating loss of 505 million yuan as it slashes prices to snatch market share from Amazon.com Inc. and Tencent. It’s ratcheting up the division to support billions of dollars in daily transactions, help merchants target shoppers, and anchor fast-growing video streaming.
“Discount offers are necessary to expand Alibaba’s cloud market share,” Ella Ji, an analyst at China Renaissance Securities U.S. Inc. wrote in an April report. Alibaba will need “further spending to fill out its original content offerings.”
Revenue from digital entertainment more than tripled to 3.9 billion yuan with an operating loss of 2.6 billion yuan as it spends on content for video site Youku Tudou and other platforms.
“Investors will be paying attention to Alibaba’s top-line growth guidance for next year. Alibaba has done a lot of acquisitions this past year, so revenue growth might not be as fast as people expect,” Zhao said.