Alibaba in the red after suffering $2.8bn antitrust fine

By Eric Johansson

Alibaba has suffered a net loss of 5.47 billion yuan ($847.5m) in its fourth quarter after it was slapped with a $2.8bn antitrust fine last month. This is the first quarterly loss the ecommerce giant has experienced since going public in 2014.

In April, China’s competition watchdog, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), levied the fine against the online shopping behemoth after determining that the company had abused its market position by holding its rivals back “through exclusive arrangements without justifiable cause.”

The SAMR penalty came amidst a state-run crackdown against Chinese tech giants that had also seen Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s Ant Group being forced to restructure its core business, agreeing to act more like a traditional bank and to accept more regulatory scrutiny.

As a result of the fine and intensified regulatory pressure, Alibaba has swung out of the black and into the red for the first time in almost seven years. The news ran counter to the $1.07bn in profit market analysts at Refinitiv expected, according to CNBC.

Despite these figures, Alibaba adopted an optimistic outlook for the rest of the year, saying it expected to generate revenue of $144.1bn in its 2022 fiscal year, translating to a 29.65% jump in year-on-year growth.

Despite its accounts running in the red, earnings per share jumped by 12% to $1.58 per share, falling short of the $1.72 expected.

Core commerce revenue rose 72% to $25bn in the quarter, powered by the company’s China retail marketplaces and ongoing consumer adoption of ecommerce in the wake of Covid-19, Reuters reported.

Ma’s problems with the Chinese state seemingly started last year after the business tycoon made a series of bold statements that appeared to criticise the Xi Jingping government. This was particularly notable during a summit in Shanghai on 24 October 2020 where the 56-year-old told leading financial, regulatory and political figures that Chinese regulation was stifling innovation and that the country’s banks operated with a “pawnshop” mentality.

A month later, Chinese regulators torpedoed the Ant Group’s hotly anticipated $37bn public listing, which would’ve valued the fintech at close to $300bn, just days before its planned float. The initial public offering would’ve been the largest one in history.

While it’s easy to focus on Alibaba quarterly results, it’s important to recognise that Ma’s companies are not the only ones to have been caught in Beijing’s tech crackdown. Businesses that had previously almost been seen as untouchable – such as Tencent, Baidu, ByteDance and Didi Chuxing – have also been fined for anti-competitive behaviours.

“The Chinese government is increasingly concerned by the tech industry’s power and it’s defining new antitrust rules to be able to exert more control over it,” Laura Petrone, thematic research senior analyst at GlobalData, recently told Verdict. “Chinese regulators are also seizing the momentum over regulating Big Tech worldwide and today’s broad consensus around antitrust issues.”