Saturday, May 25, 2024

Alibaba’s (BABA) Valuation: Uncovering Opportunities in a Discounted Market

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With a $187.28 billion market cap, Alibaba Group Holding Limited (BABA) is a China-based technology company that provides infrastructure and marketing reach to help merchants, brands, and other businesses engage with their users internationally. Last Friday, BABA’s stock notched the seventh consecutive session of gains, marking the longest winning streak in a year.

The e-commerce giant’s shares surged more than 3% over the past month, compared to the S&P 500’s nearly 3.3% loss. Also, the stock has soared approximately 1% over the past five days, beating the S&P’s marginal loss.

From a valuation perspective, BABA is trading at a forward non-GAAP P/E multiple of 9.03, 41% lower than the industry average of 15.32. Likewise, the stock’s forward EV/EBITDA and EV/EBIT of 5.46x and 8.79x are favorably compared to the industry averages of 9.42x and 13.57x, respectively.

In addition, in terms of forward Price/Book, the stock is trading at 1.33x, 43.2% lower than the industry average of 2.34x.

Alibaba’s stock trading at a discount compared to its peers can be an intriguing opportunity for value-oriented investors. However, analyzing several quantitative and qualitative factors is crucial before making investment decisions.

Now, let’s discuss BABA’s fundamentals and growth prospects in detail:

Financial Performance Overview

For the fiscal 2024 fourth quarter that ended December 31, 2023, BABA’s revenue increased 5.1% year-over-year to $36.67 billion. Revenue from the Alibaba International Digital Commerce Group grew 43.8% year-over-year, while Cainiao Smart Logistics Network Limited and Digital Media and Entertainment Group rose 23.7% and 18.3%, respectively.

The tech giant’s adjusted EBITA came in at $7.44 billion, up 1.5% from the prior year’s quarter. However, its non-GAAP net income for the quarter declined 4.1% year-over-year to $6.75 billion. It posted non-GAAP earnings per share of $0.33, down 2% year-over-year.

Alibaba’s total assets stand at $256.80 billion, with significant holdings in cash, investments, and operational assets. The company reported cash and cash equivalents of $35.89 billion and short-term investments of $42.31 billion.

“We delivered a solid quarter as we are executing our focused strategies across the organization. Our top priority is to reignite the growth of our core businesses, e-commerce and cloud computing. We will step up investment to improve users’ core experiences to drive growth in Taobao and Tmall Group and strengthen market leadership in the coming year,” said Eddie Wu, Chief Executive Officer of Alibaba Group.

“We will also focus our resources on developing public cloud products and sustaining the strong growth momentum in international commerce business,” Wu added.

Upsize of Share Buyback Program

BABA announced that its board of directors approved an increase of $25 billion to its share repurchase program through the end of March 2027. During the quarter that ended March 31, 2024, the company repurchased a total of 524 million ordinary shares for a total of $4.80 billion.

For the fiscal year that ended March 2024, Alibaba repurchased around 1,249 million ordinary shares for a total of $12.50 billion. As of March 31, 2024, the Chinese e-commerce firm had 19,469 million ordinary shares outstanding, a net decrease of 520 million ordinary shares versus December 31, 2023, or a net reduction of 2.6% in its outstanding shares after accounting for shares issued under its ESOP.

As of March 31, 2024, the company has $31.90 billion available under its share repurchase program, effective through March 2027.

The increase in BABA’s share repurchase program demonstrates its confidence in the outlook for its business and cash flow.

“Our consistent share repurchase has also reduced outstanding share count while achieving EPS and cash flow per share accretion,” said Toby Xu, Chief Financial Officer of Alibaba Group.

Reorganization

Over the past year, Alibaba underwent significant changes, including restructuring efforts.

Daniel Zhang, the previous CEO of Alibaba Group, who became acting head of the cloud business in December 2022, unexpectedly resigned in September last year.

In March 2023, BABA announced plans to split its business into six separate units in a move to unlock shareholder value and advance competitiveness. The company’s restructuring resulted in the creation of six distinct business units, some of which will be able to go public and raise external funding.

Among those being touted for initial public offerings (IPOs) were Alibaba’s cloud unit, Cainiao logistics arm, and Freshippo grocery arm. However, Alibaba decided to cancel the highly anticipated spinoff of its cloud computing business last year.

Joe Tsai, chairman of BABA, mentioned during the last earnings call that while the company will explore separate financing options, generating synergies within the Alibaba ecosystem remains a priority to reflect the group’s overall value. Tsai also emphasized that Alibaba is not rushing into these transactions and will consider market conditions before proceeding.

Strategic Initiatives

On April 17, 2024, Alibaba.com, a leading platform for global business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce, introduced its affordable, customizable Logistics Marketplace, offering U.S. small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to affordable and customizable logistics services to streamline their supply chains and gain global reach with more ease.

On January 9, Alibaba.com introduced its latest Smart Assistant features powered by AI at CES in Las Vegas, NV. The Smart Assistant is an AI-powered sourcing tool that caters to newcomers and seasoned entrepreneurs in the dynamic world of global commerce, helping them discover new opportunities, stay up-to-date on trends, seamlessly track orders, and more.

Also, in the same month, Alibaba Cloud unveiled its new generation of elastic computing instance specification family ECS g8i. ECS g8i instances will offer high-quality and efficient computing services for customers in industries like games, e-commerce, finance, medical care, and enterprise services to meet their performance needs in application scenarios, including in-depth learning, AI reasoning training, and big data.

On October 31 last year, Alibaba Cloud announced its latest large language model (LLM), Tongyi Qianwen 2.0. This is a substantial upgrade from its predecessor, launched in April. Tongyi Qianwen 2.0 demonstrates outstanding capabilities in understanding complex instructions, copywriting, memorizing, reasoning, and preventing hallucinations.

With this upgraded version of its AI model, the company looks to compete with U.S. rivals such as Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) and Microsoft Corporation (MSFT).

Alibaba also unveiled the GenAI Service Platform, which allows companies to build their own generative AI applications using their data.

Bottom Line

While BABA reported mixed financials in the last quarter, it announced an increase in the size of its share buyback program by $25 billion, creating a greater value for its shareholders. The boost to the buyback program demonstrates the company’s confidence in its business outlook and cash flow.

Moreover, AliExpress order volume rose by 60% year-over-year for the third quarter. This solid performance contributed to a staggering 44% year-over-year growth in Alibaba International Digital Commerce Group’s revenue, surpassing market expectations for the sixth straight quarter. AliExpress’ Choice, a premium service launched in March 2023, is the catalyst behind this strong growth.

Alibaba’s Cainiao Smart Logistics Network Limited and Digital Media and Entertainment Group further grew by around 23% and 18%, respectively.

Over the past five years, BABA’s revenue and EBITDA grew at CAGRs of 21.9% and 16%, respectively. The company’s net income and EPS rose at respective CAGRs of 7.6% and 7.8% over the same timeframe. Its total assets increased at 14.7% CAGR over the same period.

Besides, BABA’s trailing-12-month EBIT margin of 13.74% is 79.8% higher than the 7.64% industry average. Moreover, the stock’s trailing-12-month net income margin and levered FCF margin of 10.81% and 15.77% are significantly higher than the industry averages of 4.57% and 5.53%, respectively.

The Chinese internet giant is set to report its financial results for the quarter and fiscal year ended March 31, 2024, before the market opens on May 14, 2024. Analysts expect BABA’s revenue for the fourth quarter to increase 2.6% year-over-year to $30.37 billion. However, the company’s EPS for the same period is expected to decline by 6.3% year-over-year to $1.43.

For the fiscal year 2024, Street expects BABA’s revenue and EPS to grow 5.4% and 9.1% from the prior year to $130.09 billion and $8.46, respectively.

Moving forward, the China-based tech company’s primary focus is on revitalizing the growth of its core businesses, mainly e-commerce and cloud computing. The company will increase its investments to enhance users’ core experiences, boost growth in Taobao and Tmall Group, and solidify its market leadership in the upcoming year.

Alibaba has a substantial amount of net cash and investments on its balance sheet, providing investors with a safety cushion. This solid cash position can be used for strategic investments, acquisitions, and business expansion, enhancing the company’s growth prospects in the long term.

In conclusion, BABA’s current discounted market position presents an attractive opportunity for value-oriented investors. Conducting a thorough analysis of the company’s financial health, growth prospects, and competitive landscape can help investors make informed investment decisions and benefit from the long-term upside potential of the stock.

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