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Alibaba Profits Rise to $19 Billion Despite Coronavirus Impact

Patrick Frater

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Chinese e-commerce and digital tech giant Alibaba delivered better than expected results for the financial year to March 2020.

Revenue grew by 35% to $72 billion (RMB509 billion). Net profits grew 42% to $19.8 billion, or $18.7 billion when expressed in non-GAAP form.

Alibaba’s digital media and entertainment segment accounted for losses of $1.57 billion (RMB11.1 billion), down from a loss of RMB15.8 billion in the 2018-19 fiscal year. The improvement was driven by “more disciplined content spending,” by the Youku streaming video platform. The group said that the coronavirus outbreak had increased online entertainment consumption, but had negatively affected Alibaba Pictures’ offline activities.

“Tensions between China and the U.S. have added a layer of uncertainty to the post-coronavirus world,” said Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang, on a conference call that followed the results filing. “One thing we can be sure of is that we are moving towards a digital-first environment.”

Years of positioning as a digital company, gave the group confidence in further growth. Finance director, Maggie Wu gave guidance that she expects group revenue in the current year to rise to more than RMB650 billion, implying a further increase of 27%.

On Wednesday the U.S. senate approved a bill that would require foreign companies that are listed on American stock markets to fully comply with U.S. auditing. Most Chinese companies do not currently allow the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to oversee the auditing of their financial records. Wu said that Alibaba is audited by the Hong Kong branch of PCCW and that she believes the group is in compliance with U.S. standards.

Those companies that cannot comply risk being barred from raising fresh capital via U.S. exchanges and could even be delisted. The prospect of action against Chinese companies was one of the factors that prompted Alibaba to last year launch a secondary share listing in Hong Kong.

But current political turmoil in Asia is clouding even that wisdom.

On Thursday evening and Friday morning, details began to emerge of how the mainland Chinese government plans to impose a national security law in Hong Kong. While the Beijing government has the legal authority to do so, such a move represents a major ramping up of mainland control within the city and a direct challenge to the “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years from 1997 accorded to the city by treaty and by constitution. Investors fear a massively negative public reaction to the move and regard it as an erosion of the rule of law that has made Hong Kong a successful financial and trading hub.

Shares in Hong Kong crashed by 5.6% on Friday in reaction to the Beijing move. Prior to the results announcement, Alibaba shares sank by 3.9% in Hong Kong to HK$198.20. Pre-market trading of Alibaba’s New York Stock Exchange-traded ADRs pointed to a decrease of 1.3%.

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