Alibaba plans $6bn buyback, misses earnings forecast

Alibaba chairman Jack Ma.
Alibaba chairman Jack Ma.

Alibaba Group plans to buy back shares worth up to $6 billion over two years, the company said yesterday, as it beat first-quarter revenue forecasts but fell short of earnings estimates.

The Chinese company, which is targeting new business lines such as cloud computing, big data, entertainment and offline retail as it expands beyond e-commerce, said the share repurchase scheme would replace its existing buyback programme.

Alibaba said growth in new business lines contributed to an increase in total revenue to 38.6 billion yuan ($5.6 billion) in the quarter to the end of March, above an average forecast of 36 billion yuan, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"Our revenue base is now more diversified," CFO Maggie Wu said, adding Alibaba's cloud and entertainment sectors became "more meaningful growth drivers" during the quarter.

The firm said, however, that overall earnings in the quarter were hit by tax increases after a local tax reduction linked to Alibaba's investment in Chinese electronics retailer Suning Commerce expired.

Alibaba's adjusted earnings per share came in at 4.35 yuan ($0.63), below estimates of 4.48 yuan.

The company's shares listed in New York were marked down 3.6% to $116.6 in pre-market trading.

Revenue from digital media and entertainment businesses surged 234% to 3.9 billion yuan, reflecting the dividends from the consolidation of Youku Tudou, the video streaming platform Alibaba acquired for $3.5 billion in October.

Alibaba's cloud business continued its run of triple-digit percentage increases, bringing in revenue of 2.2 billion yuan for the quarter, up 103% from a year earlier.

Alibaba has ramped up expansion outside of China and consolidated its Southeast Asian retail site Lazada, which it acquired last year. This included integrating the Singapore-based platform's payment system, Hello Pay, with Alibaba's own payment affiliate, Alipay.

It has also taken steps to expand its merchant base in the US over the past quarter and plans to host an event next month, which 1 000 US businesses are expected to attend.

This US push follows a meeting between chairman Jack Ma and US president Donald Trump earlier this year, at which Ma pledged to create one million jobs in the country.

Revenue from Alibaba's core e-commerce business rose 47% to 31.6 billion yuan in the first quarter, up from the previous quarter's growth rate of 45%.

Last year, Alibaba bought back and canceled roughly 27 million shares, with a large portion coming from early investor Softbank Group, for about $2 billion.

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