The Ratings Game: Alibaba earnings highlight ‘attractive turnaround story,’ though stock gives back gains

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s shares looked to be giving back their post-earnings gains in Friday trading, but analysts generally had praise for the Chinese e-commerce giant’s latest results.

The company reported essentially flat revenue growth for its June quarter on Thursday morning, while signaling an improvement in business trends as the period wore on as well as progress in efforts to rein in expenses. Alibaba’s U.S.-listed shares

gained 1.8% in Thursday’s session, though they were off 4.2% in Friday morning action and trading lower than they had been just prior to the report.

Then again, analysts were encouraged by what they saw from Alibaba’s management team, especially in the wake of a tough stretch for the company and the shares. Alibaba has been dogged by macroeconomic pressures on the Chinese consumer, geopolitical tensions, as well as rising competition from live-streaming platforms.

Shares have fallen 53% over the past 12 months, as the KraneShares CSI China Internet ETF

has lost 42% and as the S&P 500

has dropped 6%.

“This is the first quarter in a while results are tracking in-line, and we feel the downward revision cycle appears to be approaching an end,” Mizuho’s James Lee wrote in a note to clients.

He highlighted that while customer management revenue has been lagging gross merchandise volume given growing merchant expenses, Alibaba still beat expectations for earnings before interest, taxes, and appreciation in its China commerce business.

“Disciplined spending drives outperforming profitability,” Lee continued, while reiterating his buy rating and $160 price target on the stock. He called Alibaba “an attractive turnaround story in our coverage.”

Citi Research analyst Alicia Yap was similarly encouraged.

“We view the solid revs beat and stronger-than-expected profit beat as a long-waited print, which we believe could help to improve overall market sentiment on BABA’s fundamentals and its continued effort to navigate through multiple challenges over the past 1.5 years,” she wrote in a note to clients.

For Yap, a highlight was Alibaba’s mid-single-digit decline in paid gross merchandise volume at Taobao and Tmall, a performance she thought was “ahead of many buy-side and sell-side expectations” as “many were expecting [growth to be] down mid-teens” on a year-over-year basis.

“More importantly, we view the China commerce adj. EBITA…as positive and a ‘needed surprise’ to reassure investors on the company’s cost optimization efforts and to help validate its profit generation ability,” she continued. Yap rates the stock a buy with a $172 target price.

Read: Inflation is leading to a ‘tale of two cities’

Jefferies analyst Thomas Chong wrote that as Alibaba is cutting costs, its management team seems to be taking a thoughtful approach to the process.

“The pursuit of cost optimization and efficiencies is driven by strategic choice and judgment of macro environment rather than primarily financial consideration,” he wrote. “Cost efficiencies apply to business units with different strategies amidst the uncertainties in macro-environments.”

He has a buy rating and a $230 price target on Alibaba’s U.S.-listed shares.

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