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Markets Respond to Alibaba Split

Stavros Tousios | Wednesday 29 March 2023

Alibaba's (BABA) shares jumped 15% at the start of Asian trading on Wednesday, March 29, after the company announced a significant overhaul of its corporate structure. The firm said it would split into six different entities, each to be managed separately by its own executive board and leadership, and may pursue funding on its own. These entities are Cloud Intelligence Group, Taobao Tmall Commerce Group, Local Services Group, Cainiao Smart Logistics, Global Digital Commerce Group, and Digital Media and Entertainment Group.

Back in February of 2023, the company's CEO, Daniel Zhang, acknowledged that competition was fierce in Alibaba’se-commerce business by short-video platforms such as ByteDance Ltd.'s Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. In addition, the company's growth momentum had slowed in the past year as clients tightened their belts in a sluggish economy. To address these issues, Alibaba focused on cutting costs and delegating more power to the heads of its business units. The move echoes similar reorganisations by Western tech giants such as Alphabet (GOOG) and ByteDance but is uncommon among Chinese tech giants.

CHINESE TECH STOCKS

Details of the Tech Giant's Shake-Up

Alibaba’s new structure was announced overnight in a short filing with the SEC, claiming the changes would make businesses "more agile" and "enable faster responses to market changes". Each new entity would be able to seek outside capital and even potentially IPO itself. However, the filing did note that the Taobao Tmall Business Group unit would remain a wholly-owned unit of Alibaba. Further details of the plan are expected to be communicated at a scheduled press conference tomorrow, Thursday, March 30th.

In an Alizila article, Alibaba’s news hub, the company said it was the "most significant governance overhaul" in its history. The current CEO of the Group, Mr. Zhang, will continue in his post, but each of the six business units will have its own CEO. Notably, the announcement came a day after Alibaba's founder, Jack Ma, was reported to have returned to China in a move that was seen as trying to mitigate concerns over the private sector following two years of regulatory crackdowns. (Source:The Wall Street Journal)

Market Reaction to BABA's Restructuring Plan

Alibaba's announcement was seen as providing a boost to tech stocks in China, as investors see it as a potential sign that the regulatory environment in China might be improving and could lead to a revaluation of the tech sector in the world's second-largest economy. Some analysts posit that other firms, such as Tencent (0700.HK), might take Alibaba's lead and make similar changes. In the wake of the announcement, Tencent shares rose 1.2%, while Meituan (3690.HK) shares rose 3.6%.

In addition, some analysts went ahead and pointed out that the market reaction is more likely due to relief over what's seen as easing regulatory tensions and not so much because the market expects Alibaba to have higher profits. The split would reduce the concentration of power of one business, and drive more innovation and competition in the tech sector, benefiting Chinese consumers more than investors.

Breakup Could Unlock Billions in Shareholder Value

Some reputable analysts are pointing to the possibility of Alibaba's overhaul being used as a template to restructure Chinese tech firms. Reportedly, the Chinese government is looking to break up the country's large tech firms, with the potential to unlock billions in pent-up shareholder value. The surprise breakup of Alibaba is seen as appeasing regulators looking to crack down on large tech firms and investors weary of the regulatory tensions.

Moving to a holding company structure is relatively rare for Chinese tech firms and a departure from the company's preference to keep operations under one single entity. President Xi Jinping's government has repeatedly criticised large companies like Alibaba and Tencent that have bought up hundreds of start-ups and come to dominate entire segments of the consumer internet. So, the breakup is seen as a way of meeting two of the government's priorities; decentralising the tech industry and jumpstarting growth after years of zero-covid restrictions.

A New Way to Lead Chinese Tech?

Alibaba announced it would separate into six business units, which would function independently and could be spun off in the future. The company's shares rose over 15%, leading to a surge in Chinese tech stocks as investors speculated that other major firms in the space, such as Tencent, could make similar announcements.

Traders and analysts alike may want to keep an eye out on the Chinese market in particular, and the global markets, in general, to see how this move might affect the various sectors. 


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