Tweedy Browne Comments on Alibaba - Stockxpo - Grow more with Investors, Traders, Analyst and Research

Tweedy Browne Comments on Alibaba


Alibaba (

BABA, Financial), the largest e-commerce company in China with over 50% market share in terms of gross merchandise value, was purchased in three of our four Funds around calendar year-end. Its core consumer marketplace businesses consist of Taobao (China’s largest consumer-to-consumer online shopping destination) and Tmall (China’s largest third-party platform for brands and retailers). Additionally, Alibaba operates the dominant cloud platform in China (AliCloud), international e-commerce operations (Lazada etc.), and digital media services, and has several strategic investments, including a 33% stake in Ant Financial.

Alibaba’s share price weakened significantly in Q4 2020 due to increasing regulatory scrutiny, including a pulled IPO of Ant Group that was originally set for November. In November, the State Administration of Market Regulation (SAMR) unveiled draft amendments to China’s Anti-Monopoly Law that extended the law to internet platforms, prohibiting practices such as platform exclusivity, predatory pricing, and price discrimination based on user data, among others. SAMR also initiated an official antitrust investigation into Alibaba and Ant Group in December. At time of purchase, we thought that the SAMR investigation into Alibaba’s core e-commerce business would have a somewhat limited impact, as many merchants are already on multiple platforms, but are attracted to Alibaba because of its strong ecosystem, traffic and marketing efficiency. There are network effects associated with a very large user and merchant base. The large Alibaba ecosystem (including local services, payments, etc.) also allows data integration across various scenarios to enable more targeted solutions to merchants and customers. Alibaba’s core marketplace business is a strong cash generator. We believe it should continue to grow with the e-commerce sector, driven by a consumption upgrade in China and penetration into newer categories. Alibaba also has continued to invest significantly in newer initiatives, such as Taobao Deals and Taobao Grocery, to extend the growth runway of the company.

The SAMR recently announced a $2.75bn fine on Alibaba for its violations of the Anti-Monopoly Law, putting an end to the bulk of the regulatory review and overhang. The fine equated to 4% of revenue and a minor portion of Alibaba’s net cash ($51bn as of December 31, 2020). Management does not expect any material impact on its business from the change in exclusivity arrangement imposed by regulators. Ant Financial could face greater regulatory impacts, but it is a relatively small part of our valuation of Alibaba, so the downside is limited. At time of purchase, Alibaba sold for less than 12x its estimated core “marketplace” EBITA, after deducting values for its other assets (i.e., international commerce, cloud, and new media). We valued the company’s cloud business using an operating margin similar to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and a 15x operating multiple. While the cloud business just turned marginally profitable last quarter, Alibaba is a significant leader in the industry (40% market share) and has first-mover advantages. As can be seen from AWS, cloud is an industry with strong economies of scale and high switching costs. China’s cloud industry is less mature than in the U.S., and Alibaba has been investing significantly to grow scale (AliCloud grew over 50% in 2020), and in the longer-term we are optimistic that its operating margin can reach closer to AWS levels.


Tweedy Browne
(Trades, Portfolio)’s 2021 annual letter to shareholders. Also check out:

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