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Keep a Close Watch on a Declining Alibaba (NYSE:BABA)

Monday, December 28, 2020 | Steve Anderson
Keep a Close Watch on a Declining Alibaba (NYSE:BABA)

Sure, Alibaba may have started life as part of a series of stories from a fictional young lady trying to keep her head and neck connected, but Scheherazade's classic character became a lot more than that. It became the central theme around which Chinese mega-corporation Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) got its start. While the company has exploded to prominence over the last few years, recent months have been much tougher on the company. In fact, the company's share price has recently been the subject of a disaster on par with anything the storyteller might have come out with.

An Ongoing Problem?

The latest word out of Alibaba isn't exactly great news. Recent trading saw the company's share price slip to the lowest levels seen since June, and that amid a market that should be exploding: online shopping.

Reports suggest that the biggest problem for Alibaba is that it may be getting too big for regulators' comfort, and the regulators in Beijing tend to take an even darker view of threats than most any other. The company lost better than 13% of its value in Christmas Eve trading, and the latest reports had it starting off today down another 3% on top of it. Recovery was seen in early trading today, but as of this writing, about half of that recovery track was lost, and the stock is currently at $220.03, under the last close of $222 even. Given that the company was trading around $311 two months ago, this is bad news by any stretch.

Analysts Comparatively Unfazed

The notion of a Beijing rampage doing serious damage to Alibaba in the long term, though, seems to be giving the analyst community very little in the way of concern. Our latest research considers the company a “buy”, and the consensus has changed very little in the last six months. Six months ago, the company had one “hold” rating, 25 “buy” and one “strong buy”. Three months ago, that was the same proportion, but with 28 “buy” ratings. Now, we're down to 23 “buy” ratings, though everything else is the same, and that's what we saw a month ago.

The price target is unchanged from last month, sitting at $314.63. Given where the stock is currently trading, that means either a lot of faith in a recovery or a lack of updates. Considering that the last update in price targets came from Barclays back on November 9—that upgraded the company to a $365 price target—it's safe to suggest that a lot of analysts haven't really reconsidered the matter yet.

The Dragons' Rumbling

In recent months, Alibaba has become a much more heavily diversified operation. Under normal circumstances, this is a good thing, and shareholders tend to reward such behavior by parking more cash with such companies. They're safer investments, after all, more likely to turn a profit overall and offer the investor better return on said cash parked therein.

Alibaba has done quite a bit to expand its operations; having started life as a payment processor—it's directly responsible for Alipay, which is the leading mobile payments tool in China ahead of its next closest competitor, WeChat Pay—it expanded into markets that made sense. It became proprietor of some of the biggest online shopping in China, which makes it some of the biggest online shopping period, including places like Taobao Marketplace. Further expansions into healthcare and other operations were poised to make it the direct Chinese equivalent of Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).

Indeed, investors flooded in, and Alibaba rewarded accordingly, launching a $6 billion stock buyback programs that was recently expanded to $10 billion. But with Chinese regulators increasingly unhappy—Alibaba's move to take Alipay originator Ant Group public in what would have been the largest initial public offering (IPO) ever didn't help—the specter of antitrust suits and monopoly accusations shadowed the company's gains.

Throw in the very real potential that Alibaba may not be on the NYSE much longer—President Trump recently signed the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, which could result in some companies being de-listed from US exchanges—and that doesn't bode well for Alibaba right now. However, this is still a point to watch. Alibaba is still one of the biggest companies in China, and therefore, the world. It has its fingers in a great many pies out there, and that gives it a measure of safety.

Thus, if you're currently holding Alibaba shares, it's a good idea to keep doing so. Regulatory mindsets change, and if the regulators lay off, the company has lots of room to bring in returns. An expanded buyback program will likely also result in at least short-term gains as well. Be ready, however, to sell off quickly if need be; there are significant potential pitfalls coming with Alibaba shares right now, and those who fail to respond quickly enough could see big losses.

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Companies Mentioned in This Article

CompanyMarketRank™Current PricePrice ChangeDividend YieldP/E RatioConsensus RatingConsensus Price Target
Alibaba Group (BABA)2.3$211.01+0.7%N/A30.27Buy$313.53 (AMZN)1.9$3,258.42+1.1%N/A95.41Buy$4,180.54
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