Since the fall of 2020, China has fined corporations and scrutinized them for alleged monopolistic practices. A Covid resurgence since March has added pressure to growth, with travel restrictions and stay-home orders disrupting supply chains and logistics.
Reflecting the economic slowdown, e-commerce giant Alibaba reported on Thursday a drop in online shopping for its two main China platforms in the quarter ended March 31.
The company’s total revenue rose by 9% in the latest quarter from a year ago — the slowest on record, according to financial history accessed through Wind Information.
Tencent’s revenue for the quarter was little changed, while JD.com saw a roughly 18% increase from a year ago — both the slowest on record, according to Wind data.
Alibaba shares soared by nearly 15% in New York trading overnight after reporting better-than-expected results. JD.com’s U.S.-listed shares rose by 5%, while Tencent’s climbed more than 1% in Hong Kong trading Friday.
China’s consumer demand
“Macro-sensitive stocks” such as Alibaba and Baidu might temporarily benefit from low earnings expectations, and anticipation that Shanghai is close to ending its lockdown, Jialong Shi and Thomas Shen, analysts at Nomura, said in a note Friday.
“However, we believe the sustainability of this rally will likely be dictated by the pace of recovery for China consumer demand, which the market will likely closely follow over the coming months,” the analysts said.
China’s already sluggish retail sales fell further in April, down 11.1% from a year ago.
Even online sales of physical goods fell, down by 1% — worse than during the initial shock of the pandemic in 2020. That’s according to CNBC calculations of official data accessed through Wind Information.
The Nomura analysts said many businesses were deciding to cut marketing spending as a way to ride out the difficult environment, “which might lead to a belated recovery in the ads industry even if China is completely out of the lockdown mode.”
Alibaba said excluding unpaid orders, gross merchandise value (GMV) saw a “low single-digit decline” from a year ago, according to an earnings call transcript from FactSet. GMV is a measure of goods sold over a set period of time.
The company said its online physical goods GMV in China, excluding unpaid orders, fell further in April, with a “low teens” decline from a year ago. The company said more than 80 cities in China — mostly national economic centers — reported confirmed Covid cases in April. That represents more than half of Alibaba’s China retail marketplace GMV.
For the April to June quarter, China Renaissance analysts said in a report they expect Alibaba’s China commerce GMV to drop by 13.5% year-on-year, for a 6% decline in overall net revenue.
Other Chinese companies reporting results for the latest quarter painted a more upbeat picture.
Baidu: Chinese tech company Baidu’s mild 1% quarterly revenue increase was only the worst since 2020, a year that saw two quarters of revenue decline, Wind data showed. The search engine giant has expanded in recent years into cloud services and robotaxis.
“We see solid progress in its various AI initiatives,” Daiwa Capital Markets analysts wrote in a report Thursday. They noted Baidu’s AI cloud revenue grew by 45% year-on-year in the first quarter, faster than the company’s peers.
Dada: Grocery delivery company Dada, which is now majority-owned by JD, reported a 21% year-on-year revenue increase in the latest quarter, the best since the third quarter of 2021, according to Wind. Dada said it was one of the businesses local government approved to maintain operations during lockdowns.
The company reported more than triple the GMV and double the number of active customers in the 12 months ended late March, versus the same period two years ago.
Kuaishou: Short-video, livestreaming and emerging e-commerce app Kuaishou reported 19% revenue growth in the latest quarter, the slowest on record, although only going back to the third quarter of 2020, Wind showed.
“Despite the recent macro uncertainties due to COVID, we think Kuaishou’s bottom-up efforts in market share gains in ad and e-commerce and effective cost control could continue to help Kuaishou outperform on fundamentals,” UBS analyst Felix Liu and a team wrote this week.
It’s “impressive” that Kuaishou delivered growth in the number of active users and time spent per user, while using less-than-expected sales and marketing expenses, the analysts said.