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China's JD.com feels pressure as sales of big ticket items slow

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A sign of China's e-commerce company JD.com is seen at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) Asia 2018 in Shanghai, China June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song
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By Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com Inc's shares came under further pressure on Monday after the company reported its slowest quarterly revenue growth since its initial public offering in 2014.

JD.com, which is backed by Walmart Inc, Alphabet Inc's Google and China's Tencent Holdings, has already lost nearly half of its market value this year as it fights intense competition for Chinese online consumers.

On Monday executives said slower sales in its core e-commerce business, particularly big ticket items, dented third-quarter earnings growth, adding that they expect an upturn in profits next year.

While revenue rose 25 percent from the same period a year earlier, it lagged analysts' forecasts and was well below previous growth rates, which peaked at over 60 percent in 2015.

The company also forecast fourth quarter sales growth between 18 and 23 percent, below an average analyst estimate of 23.5 percent.

Chief financial officer Sidney Huang said the "relatively soft" sales forecast was linked to an ongoing consumption slowdown in China.

JD.com's shares were down more than 5 percent in pre-market trade on Nasdaq.

Concerns over the Sino-U.S. trade war and a legal allegation facing Chief Executive Richard Liu's have pushed down JD.com shares by more than 44 percent this year. Shares of its bigger rival Alibaba Group Holding have shed 11 percent.

Both firms are making efforts to reach new consumers in Southeast Asia and rural China as demand tapers off in big cities. Earlier this month, Alibaba lowered its forecast for full-year sales, citing economic uncertainty linked to the trade war.

JD.com's technology and content costs for the third quarter were 3.4 billion yuan, almost doubling from a year earlier, reflecting a steep investment in research and development, including warehouse technology, offline retail and drones.

In August the company said it will move its warehouse business into a separate unit, offering logistics management to third-party brands as well as its own platform, in a bid to boost income.

JD.com said revenue totaled 104.8 billion yuan ($15.09 billion) for the quarter ended Sept. 30, missing an average estimate of 106.2 billion yuan from 22 analysts, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

JD.com's volumes are seasonally lower in the third quarter as it ramps up to its November Singles' Day promotion period. This year, it sold 158.9 billion yuan in goods during the month-long event, up 17 percent form a year earlier.

Despite the lower-than-expected sales, the company reported income of 0.80 yuan per share, above an estimate of 0.72 yuan, driven by stronger sales in its tech services unit, which grew at almost twice the rate of its general product sales.

JD.com has recently been in news for the arrest of chief Richard Liu, over alleged sexual misconduct in the United States.

He was released after a night in jail and JD.com has said the accusation against Liu was unsubstantiated.

Executives brushed off a question about the arrest on Monday during a call with analysts, declining to comment on the ongoing legal process and asking attendees to not ask any further questions on the subject.

Separately, Liu said on the call that he would be focusing on new business lines and strategy in the coming year, handing off management of more mature units to others in the company.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing and Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Adrian Croft and Susan Fenton)