Alibaba May Be Set For Big Gains

Summary

  • Alibaba’s earnings card next week may be a catalyst for the firm’s shares to power higher.
  • COVID-19 lockdowns in China may have boosted Alibaba’s e-Commerce business in the fourth quarter.
  • Alibaba likely bought a ton of shares during the March sell-off.

Alibaba Group Holding Limited is set to report financial results for the quarter and full-year ended March 31, 2022 on Thursday, May 26, 2022. Results are highly anticipated as investors worry about Alibaba’s e-commerce performance, which has shown signs of weakness in recent quarters. Because expectations are so low for Alibaba, I believe it won’t take much for the stock to move higher on stronger than expected EPS, free cash flow, and stock buybacks!

Investors have low expectations

Heading into earnings, Alibaba has one major advantage again: after the e-Commerce company warned of slowing top line growth last year, especially as it relates to its e-commerce business, investors have low expectations.

There are legitimate reasons for having low expectations, however. Beijing has cracked down on monopolies and is trying to open up markets to more competition. Alibaba, as a leading e-Commerce company in China, has been at the receiving end of measures that are meant to reign in its monopolistic power. At the same time, macro risks have risen. Consumer spending has faced headwinds in 2021 due to a slowdown in China’s economy. It was a combination of these factors that led Alibaba to lower its revenue growth forecast for FY 2022 to 20-23%.

Why I expect better EPS than the market

The expectation is for the e-commerce firm to report adjusted earnings per share of $1.07 for Q4’22, which implies a 33% decrease year over year. EPS revisions to the downside exceeded upward revisions by 6-to-1.

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I believe the market is too pessimistic and Alibaba could see better than expected EPS because of additional lockdowns that were imposed in China in March. Under Beijing’s strict zero-COVID policy, mega cities like Shenzen with more than 17M residents were locked down in mid-March. These unexpected lockdowns could have resulted in a boost to Alibaba’s e-Commerce business which has shown signs of a slowdown as the pandemic faded. Alibaba’s e-commerce growth in China slowed to just 7% year-over-year in the previous quarter, and total revenue growth for the quarter totaled only 10%, which was the slowest growth since the company went public in 2014.

Alibaba

Due to COVID-19 lockdowns in the first quarter, Alibaba may have seen an acceleration in its e-commerce business, which also did very well during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Additionally, China’s Q1’22 GDP showed better than expected growth as it grew at a rate of 4.8% (estimate: 4.4%), so there is hope that macroeconomic headwinds eased in Alibaba’s fourth quarter.

During lockdowns, e-commerce companies tend to get more busy as shoppers are greatly limited in their daily lives and turn to online shopping alternatives. For this reason, I believe that Alibaba’s e-commerce top line figure could see an increase in Q4’22.

Because of lockdowns in other cities that were put in place after the end of the quarter, I can also see Alibaba submitting an outlook for FY 2023 that indicates an uptick in revenue growth. Large cities like Shanghai and Beijing went into lockdown in the second quarter which could provide an additional boost to Alibaba’s core e-Commerce operations. While Alibaba is diversifying its business and investing strategically into other businesses, like its cloud computing segment, the domestic e-commerce business in China still accounts for the majority of revenues, 71%, and this is not going to change in the short term.

Alibaba likely purchased a ton of shares during the March sell-off

What I also believe could be a catalyst for Alibaba next week is the amount of shares Alibaba repurchased in Q4’22. Alibaba famously announced a massive $25B share buyback in March to calm investors during a nerve-wracking downhill slide of Alibaba’s valuation.

Alibaba’s free cash flow decreased 26% in the December quarter to 71.0B Chinese Yuan which calculates to $25.2B in the third quarter. The decrease was due to weaker operating cash flow related to a slowdown in Alibaba’s core e-commerce business as well as accelerating strategic investments in a variety of other businesses. My estimate for Q4’22 free cash flow is 20-25B Chinese Yuan which is the equivalent of $3.0-3.7B and I estimate that Alibaba could have purchased up to $2.0B of its shares in Q4’22.

In the third quarter, Alibaba repurchased $1.4B worth of shares and, in the first nine months of the 2022 fiscal year, Alibaba repurchased $7.7B of its shares.

Alibaba likely accelerated its share buybacks in the fourth quarter, in part because shares dropped to new lows in March, allowing the company to buy back more shares at discounted prices.

A pitiful valuation

Alibaba is one of the most under-performing stocks in my portfolio, but I believe the market is currently not pricing Alibaba’s e-commerce prospects rationally. Alibaba’s shares have started to trade at a truly pitiful valuation in 2022 which completely neglects Alibaba’s considerable free cash flow prowess and aggressive buybacks at discounted prices. Although Alibaba is seeing a slowdown in its top line growth, the company will continue to grow, especially in businesses that are meant to diversify its operations, namely cloud computing. Alibaba’s current P-S ratio has fallen to 1.5 X, which makes it one of the cheapest e-commerce empires in the market.

Data by YCharts

Risks with Alibaba

If Alibaba’s earnings card next week shows that COVID-19 lockdowns didn’t affect Alibaba’s e-commerce business in a positive way, Alibaba’s shares may revalue lower. Weak free cash flow and a poor outlook for FY 2023, especially regarding Alibaba’s core e-commerce business, are also risk factors next week.

Final thoughts

Given that expectations are so low heading into earnings, Alibaba could be set for some nice gains next week… if the earnings card is better than expected. Considering that investors have been worn down by Alibaba’s skidding valuation for more than a year now, it won’t take much for Alibaba to surprise investors.

I believe Alibaba could achieve this surprise in two ways next week: It could report better EPS and strong free cash flow due to additional e-commerce boosting COVID-19 lockdowns in March. And, Alibaba could surprise with the amount of shares it repurchased during the March meltdown. Shares of Alibaba are a promising buy heading into earnings!

Author: The Asian Investor, Seeking Alpha

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