Alibaba quarterly revenue rises 32% on strong holiday sales

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's third-quarter revenue rose 32 per cent, beating analysts' average estimate, helped by strong holiday sales.

Alibaba's US-listed shares were down about 1 per cent Thursday. Oppenheimer's Internet analyst Jason Helfstein told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that the stock is moving down on concerns about the yuan.

"It was a revenue and EPS beat, but the issue is that they got there on a higher take rate. The gross merchandise value in local currency is slowing. The growth rate has basically been cut in half versus a year ago," said Helfstein.

"I think investors were looking for some more metrics around the stability of the business given concerns about the macro economy in China," Helfstein added.

RBC Capital Markets' lead Internet analyst, Mark Mahaney, told "Squawk on the Street" that he remains bullish on the stock despite concerns about China's economy.

"I think the real key here is mobile monetisation levels are really gapping up, and that's the new growth engine for Alibaba," Mahaney said. However, he said overarching China concerns will continue to weigh on the stock.

"Even with the better-than-expected numbers, people may not want to make an aggressive bet on China right now," Mahaney added.

Gross merchandise volume, or the total value of goods transacted on its platforms on China retail marketplaces, rose 23 per cent to 964 billion yuan (S$209 billion), its slowest annual growth rate in more than three years.

50 little-known facts about Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma

  • Alibaba was founded in 1999 by former English teacher Jack Ma (pictured), who started with a platform for Chinese manufacturers to connect with foreign buyers.
  • Jack Ma started Alibaba in his one-room apartment in 1999 and has since branched out into markets as diverse as e-payments and financial investment.
  • Mr Ma, his wife and 16 friends pooled together US$60,000 to set up Alibaba.
  • The dial-up connection was so spotty in the early days of the company that it took three hours to load half a web page.
  • Alibaba means "opens sesame for small- to medium-sized companies", Mr Ma told CNN in 2006.
  • The company founder said the name came to him at a coffee shop in San Francisco. He asked the waitress and 30 people on the street, if they knew it, and they all did. He chose this name also because it is easy to pronounce in all languages.
  • In 2002, Alibaba had only enough money to stay in business for 18 months. It turned things around by creating a product to let Chinese exporters meet US buyers online.
  • The company fought off eBay with its online marketplace Taobao by offering free listings to sellers. Mr Ma told Forbes magazine in 2005: "eBay may be a shark in the ocean, but I'm a crocodile in the Yangtze River. If we fight in the ocean, we lose, but if we fight in the river, we win."
  • Unlike US giant Amazon, Alibaba connects small- and medium-sized Chinese sellers with a wide audience.
  • Alibaba has made thousands of farmers millionaires. One told AFP he now roars to work in a black Jaguar and flies with his wife on holidays to Paris, thanks to his online bag store that rakes in S$6 million each year.
  • He launched Taobao in 2003, just in time to tap into Chinese consumers connecting to the Internet and eager to spend their rising salaries.
  • Rural Taobao stores employ more than 10 per cent of the local population and take in revenues of more than 10 million yuan a year.
  • Taobao villages often produce their goods - ranging from T-shirts to wicker baskets.
  • Alibaba is now responsible for 80 per cent of online sales in China.
  • Alibaba makes most of its revenue from fees and commissions that it receives from Taobao and the smaller but more up market Tmall.
  • It also has stakes in Chinese payment services, video streaming and cloud computing.
  • Together, Alibaba’s marketplaces sold US$296 billion worth of goods in the 12 months through the end of June, which is estimated to be more than Amazon and eBay combined.
  • In the second quarter, Alibaba made a staggering 43 cents of operating profit for every dollar of revenue.
  • Japanese Masayoshi Son (picture) made billions of dollars from his investment in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
  • The company remains largely unknown in the United States with an Ipsos poll finding that 88 per cent of Americans have never heard of it.
  • But that could change as Alibaba ramps up its investments in the US. Recently it has invested hundreds of millions in US start-ups, including Uber ride-sharing competitor Lyft, delivery service ShopRunner and video-gaming venture Kabam. It has recently invested in mobile browsers, social media and film production. This year, Alibaba launched the invite-only shopping site 11Main.com, aimed at American buyers.
  • Mr Ma was in Singapore recently, speaking to investors at a roadshow ahead of Alibaba's IPO. A team from the company also visited Hong Kong, New York and Boston.
  • Alibaba is poised for a record-breaking stock market debut on Friday, by raising $21.8 billion in a US initial public offering. This could rise to US$25 billion if options are exercised for additional demand, breaking the 2010 record of China’s AgBank of $22.1 billion.
  • The shares were priced at US$68, which is at the top end of the range announced earlier this week.
  • Alibaba would have a market value of around $168 billion based on the price, making it bigger than Amazon.
  • Among the beneficiaries will be current and former employees, many of whom will become instant millionaires as Alibaba like other tech giants such as Google and Microsoft had given stock to staff.
  • Alibaba also struck one of its largest deals with a US e-commerce company, agreeing to help Amazon.com rival ShopRunner expand into China. The move would offer a new way for US retailers to tap the world's second largest economy.
  • The Chinese e-commerce giant has burrowed its way into the Valley's exclusive investment circles, snapping up sizeable stakes and board seats in fast-growing start-ups that could provide strategic advantages for when the company challenges Amazon or eBay on their home turf.
  • By acquiring minority stakes, Alibaba's playbook has differed from what's typical of large tech firms like Google or Facebook, which prefer to buy startups outright.
  • In a letter included in the IPO prospectus, Mr Ma said: “Customers first, employees second, and shareholders third."
  • Picked up English as a teenager in Hangzhou by cycling 40 minutes every day to the city centre to act as a free tour guide to foreigners. Mr Ma said: "I practised my English every morning, no matter if it snows or rains."
  • Found himself on Hangzhou TV in 1995, after he was the only person brave enough to take on some burly men stealing well covers. The TV station staged the theft to find chivalrous passers-by.
  • Dreamed of studying at Peking University but didn't make it to the prestigious university
  • Flunked his college exams twice and had to settle for a low-ranked teacher's institute in his hometown.
  • After graduating, he taught English at a university for five years. His pay was a meagre 100 to 120 yuan (S$20 to S$25) a month.
  • Once applied to be secretary to the general manager of a KFC outlet, but was rejected.
  • His first two start-ups, a translation business and an online Chinese version of the Yellow Pages, flopped.
  • Got the idea to start a website in Seattle, where he was a trade delegation's interpreter. Exposed to the Internet for the first time, he searched for "beer", and found that there was no data about China.A
  • t that point, he had never touched a keyboard, and didn't know anything about computers or e-mail.
  • From the looks of it, he still isn't a tech whiz. Mr Ma said in an interview that he "knows nothing about technology", and that he only uses his computer for e-mail and to surf the web. He even gets a colleague to help him load American television shows into his iPad.
  • See himself as a cross between Feng Qingyang, a reclusive master swordsman from a martial arts novel, and iconic Hollywood alien ET.
  • Mr Ma wrote in an e-mail before his 2013 resignation as CEO of the company: "Succeeding a founder CEO is a difficult job, especially taking over from a CEO with such a distinct personality who is very ET-like; this requires great courage and the willingness to make sacrifices."
  • Has been inspired by stars on the big screen. Mr Ma said in 2009: "Forrest Gump is not a smart guy, but he is focused. He's not talented, but he is very, very hardworking, and he's very simple and opportunistic."
  • Belted out hits from The Lion King to staff at major company events, in full rock star regalia, complete with a flowing white wig and leather jacket. He has also dressed up as the Terminator, with Arnold Schwarzenegger on his arm.
  • Probably gets his sense of showmanship from his parents who were performers of the traditional musical storytelling technique of ping tan, which was banned during the Cultural Revolution.
  • Founded a taiji school with actor and martial artist Jet Li in May 2013. He was photographed demonstrating taiji at the school's opening ceremony.
  • He is the first mainland Chinese to make the cover of Forbes magazine.
  • Forbes described the 1.62m-tall Mr Ma as a "Napoleon-like person". The magazine must have heard that Mr Ma, in his youth, wished that he was born during wartime. "I could have been a general," he said.
  • Mr Ma's journey with Alibaba has been the subject of a film. Crocodile In The Yangtze was written, directed and produced by an American who spent eight years at the company.
  • Alibaba will last 102 years, according to Mr Ma who wants the company to thrive for three centuries.
  • Mr Ma will reap US$867 million by selling a portion of his shares with the IPO Friday, and his remaining holdings in the company are now worth US$13.2 billion

Alibaba is trying to replace decelerating volume growth in online shopping by expanding in other areas.

It offered US$3.7 billion (S$5.27 billion) to become sole owner of Youku Tudou, known as China's YouTube. Online video users in the country are beginning to cough up money for high-quality online streaming services.

But the majority of Alibaba's revenue still comes from China's online shoppers buying from domestic businesses, a business driven by growth in GMV.

Net income attributable to shareholders reached $1.93 billion, or 76 cents per share. Excluding items, Alibaba earned 99 cents per share.

Revenue rose to 34.53 billion yuan in the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with the average analyst estimate of 33.33 billion yuan, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Alibaba competes with smaller rival JD.com, which has focused on more affluent shoppers in China's biggest cities, a strategy that may be paying off in an economy that last year grew at its weakest pace in a quarter of a century.

While the two companies calculate the total value of goods sold, or GMV, differently, JD.com's GMV grew 82 per cent in the nine months to September while Alibaba's rose 34 per cent, suggesting China's biggest e-tailer was losing market share.

Alibaba Chief Executive Daniel Zhang said this month that the company will pivot toward "first-tier" cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, after having trumpeted a push into China's countryside, as well as abroad.

- CNBC's Christine Wang and Reuters contributed to this report.

17 quotes that show how Jack Ma became a billionaire

  • "I borrowed $2,000 to set up the company. I knew nothing about personal computers or e-mails. I had never touched a keyboard before that. That's why I call myself 'blind man riding on the back of a blind tiger'."
    -As told to Inc's Rebecca Fannin.
  • “It doesn’t matter if I failed. At least I passed the concept on to others. Even if I don’t succeed, someone will succeed.”
    -As recorded in Crocodile in the Yangtze
  • “Today is cruel. Tomorrow is crueler. And the day after tomorrow is beautiful.”
    -As reported on Business Insider.
  • “If we are a good team and known what we want to do, one of us can defeat ten of them.”
    -As recorded in Crocodile in the Yangtze
  • “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. And, when you are small, you have to be very focused and rely on your brain, not your strength.”
    -As recorded in Crocodile in the Yangtze
  • "Always believe in your dream, and learn from other people's mistakes - never learn from their success."
    -As said on CNBC
  • “We will make it because we are young and we will never, never give up.”
    -As recorded in Crocodile in the Yangtze
  • “If we go to work at 8 am and go home at 5 pm, this is not a high-tech company and Alibaba will never be successful. If we have that kind of 8-to-5 spirit, then we should just go and do something else.”
    -As recorded in Crocodile in the Yangtze
  • "If you want to make business with the big boys, make yourself either big or strong."
    -As said on CNBC
  • “You should learn from your competitor, but never copy. Copy and you die.”
    -As recorded in Crocodile in the Yangtze
  • “Alibaba is not just a job. It’s a dream. It’s a cause. Let the Wall Street investors curse us if they want.”
    -As recorded in Crocodile in the Yangtze
  • “If you want to grow, find a good opportunity. Today, if you want to be a great company, think about what social problem you could solve.”
    -As recorded in Crocodile in the Yangtze
  • “Intelligent people need a fool to lead them. When the team’s all a bunch of scientists, it is best to have a peasant lead the way. His way of thinking is different. It’s easier to win if you have people seeing things from different perspectives.”
    -As recorded in Crocodile in the Yangtze
  • "We survived because we didn't have money, technology or a plan."
    -As said on CNBC
  • "Americans are strong at hardware and systems. But on information and systems, Chinese brains are as good as theirs. All of our brains are just as good as theirs. This is the reason we dare to compete with Americans."
    -As recorded in Crocodile in the Yangtze
  • "When Taobao was founded, it was so difficult to find supplies to sell on Taobao...Today, we have over 1 billion product listings on our site."
    -Ma at a Credit Suisse conference
  • "It is so difficult to go back to yesterday. If you do not change yourself, you are not going to have a future."
    -Ma at a Credit Suisse conference

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