News of China's retaliatory tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. imports led to a broad market selloff on Monday, and though markets rebounded on Tuesday, uncertainty remains on how trade talks will hit companies with China exposure.
In the back half of 2018, trade tensions pummeled Alibaba's stock on fears of sinking consumer confidence in China. Investors don't appear quite as rattled this time around, amid signs that spending in China has stabilized. Alibaba shares are up 24% year to date, but shares have declined about 13% since the recent ratcheting up of trade tensions.
Alibaba investors can expect updates and questions on trade impact from Alibaba's earnings report and call due out before the market opens on Wednesday. Here are a few other issues likely to come up:
1. Consumer Spending
Alibaba earns a majority of its revenue from online sales in China, so trends in discretionary spending in the market are critical in reading the tea leaves. In a May 6 research note, Stifel's Scott Devitt noted an improved outlook on that front, citing data from China's National Bureau of Statistics of China that suggest invigorated spending by the Chinese middle class -- in March, online sales of physical goods increased 23.5% year-over-year, an uptick over the first two months of the quarter.
In remains to be seen how much those positive trends will hold up in the face of trade uncertainty, but there's still plenty to appreciate in Alibaba's stock given "long-term secular tailwinds from the emerging middle class consumption upgrade and the company's leadership position across eCommerce and cloud services," Devitt wrote.
2. Cloud Revenues
Much like its U.S. counterpart in many ways, Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) , Alibaba has sought to stake out a leadership position in cloud computing through Alibaba Cloud. That side of its business stands at around 6% of overall revenue and is dwarfed by online sales, but it's an attractive area of growth for the e-commerce giant. In a May 10 note, RBC Capital Markets' Zachary Schwartzman noted that cloud computing "represents a potentially very large $30-$40B market opportunity for Alibaba," estimating 76% year-over-year growth in the quarter. Particularly in the face of trade jitters, investors may latch onto good news about Alibaba's cloud business, which is more insulated from consumer spending trends than is e-commerce.
3. E-Commerce Investments
Alibaba has been busy investing in its commerce business in China, pouring money into logistics, services and "new retail," or initiatives that combine physical and online retail. As one piece of the overall sales picture, Alibaba has also been making improvements to its "customer management" segment, which is comprised primarily of advertising revenue from its Taobao and Tmall apps.
One important area that Alibaba has been testing and tweaking is its recommendation engine. If successful, the improved system "should lead to higher conversion and sustainability in the long term, though near-term headwinds remain as the company tests this shift," Stifel's Devitt added. These and other initiatives could lay the groundwork for long-term growth, irrespective of trade tiffs, and so investors will be tuned in on Wednesday for relevant updates.