Alibaba's still a bargain with a vision

Updated: 2015-11-23 08:09

By Peter Liang(HK Edition)

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 Alibaba's still a bargain with a vision

Alibaba's Tmall sets new records in the "Double 11" shopping festival on Nov 11.

Record sales registered on Alibaba's online retail platform Tmall on Singles' Day have failed to lift the tech giant's shares on the New York bourse despite its huge and loyal following in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland.

The poor performance of Alibaba's shares begs the question if the company or, more specifically, its founder Jack Ma, have lost the charm. Ma, as usual, has kept up his high-profile stance, making numerous keynote speeches to attentive executives and professionals at well-publicized forums, and dispensing advice to budding entrepreneurs at leading universities and seminars.

But, investors, apparently, are not all that impressed by his philosophical discourse or brotherly pep talk. They sense that Alibaba faces some immediate and real challenges, and they want to hear how Ma and his team of, supposedly, the best and brightest IT talents on the mainland, is going to handle it.

What investors do know is that the group is under enormous pressure from regulators, trade associations and consumer groups to remove vendors of fake goods from its online platform. The company has said it's making every effort to clamp down on counterfeits. This has made investors ponder over whether the company can sustain the growth of its valuable platform without the sale of counterfeit products.

Presumably, Alibaba can achieve growth through diversification, and it's doing just that with considerable pomp and circumstance. A few years ago, the company made a big splash into Internet banking, promising to transform the tightly-controlled financial market by offering consumers higher returns on their deposits and more convenient services that the staid banks couldn't hope to match.

But, after the initial fervor, the endeavor appears to have slipped into oblivion. Little about it has been mentioned by Alibaba or stock analysts in Hong Kong and on the mainland who have been tracking the company's moves.

The biggest challenge facing Alibaba, and many other mainland enterprises for that matter, is the economic slowdown that threatens to depress, among other things, consumer spending in coming years. At times like these, it's all the more important for the company's management to project a highly focused vision and come up with a credible plan to achieve the targets it has set for the company.

Investors have come to expect more from IT giants, such as Amazon, Google and, of course, Apple - the world's most profitable company - which are seen to be always trying to explore new horizons and create markets that nobody even know they exist. If they don't see Alibaba doing that, they'll have reservations about investing in the company.

This is not to say that Alibaba is a bad buy. At current prices, the company's shares remain a bargain for investors, who believe that Ma still has what it takes to project a vision for his company that can wow even the most jaded investors.

(HK Edition 11/23/2015 page10)