The Little-Known Alibaba Unit That Prompted an SEC Probe
Comment of the Day

May 26 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Little-Known Alibaba Unit That Prompted an SEC Probe

This article from Bloomberg news may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

One issue for the SEC appears to be how Alibaba accounts for Cainiao’s financial performance. Alibaba includes results from Cainiao using the equity method, which counts profits and losses as a proportion of an investment. Considering Alibaba’s high ownership and control over the logistics business, regulators may be asking whether Alibaba should completely consolidate Cainiao into its results, said Paul Gillis, an accounting professor at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management.

In 2015, Cainiao posted a net loss of 617 million yuan ($94 million) on sales of almost 3.1 billion yuan, Alibaba said. That year, Alibaba recorded its percentage of the loss on its books, $46 million. At the same time, the e-commerce company reported a $128 million gain on investments in Cainiao and other entities.

The gain, which helped offset the operating losses, was probably due to the higher valuation that Cainiao fetched in its latest funding round, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. In March, Cainiao announced its first round of external fundraising, with financing from investors including Temasek Holdings Pte, GIC Pte and Khazanah Nasional Bhd. That gave the delivery network a valuation of about $7.7 billion, Caixin reported, citing people familiar with the matter

Eoin Treacy's view

The issue is not so much with the size or performance of Alibaba’s logistics subsidiary but rather in the opacity with which the company deals with its shareholders. Alibaba is not alone in this regard. Google’s reorganisation and issuance of C shares and Facebook’s reorganisation to ensure Zuckerberg’s control both exemplify a trend toward less shareholder oversight of management decisions. Against that background Alibaba’s governance issues are non-trivial but arguably they are already in the price.

The share has been ranging in the region of the trend mean and the progression of lower rally highs since early April and bounced today. A sustained move above $85 would break the medium-term downtrend and signal a return to demand dominance., Alibaba’s largest Chinese competitor, is back testing the lower side of its medium-term range and a clear upward dynamic, held for more than a day or two, will be required to confirm support in this area.

Vipshop has been trending lower for more than a year. While short-term oversold, as it tests the region of the February low, a sustained move above the trend mean will be required to break the medium-term downtrend.

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