Alibaba (BABA) - Get Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Report is expected to report its earnings for the third fiscal quarter ending Dec. 31 on Jan. 24 before markets open, and its nascent cloud business could be a standout.
The Chinese e-commerce giant, which is made up of four divisions including its core e-commerce sites Taobao and Tmall, cloud computing, digital media and entertainment, and other equity investments, is expected to post better-than-estimated results.
The company is projected to post earnings per share of $1.12 on sales of $7.3 billion, according to analysts polled by FactSet.
"We expect Alibaba to report another strong quarter, although growth rates are likely to come down from the 50%+ growth of the last couple of quarters based on the company's guidance. The highlight of the quarter was Single's Day which continued to grow in importance as Alibaba expands its reach beyond China," said Gil Luria, senior analyst at Wedbush Securities.
Having registered last year's Singles' Day global shopping festival as yet another success -- Alibaba racked up $17.8 billion in gross merchandise volume (GMV)-- the company has since sped up its expansion into India and Southeast Asia, competing aggressively with Amazon (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report . The company has also recently partnered up with SoftBank to offer cloud services in Japan and most recently the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to sell IOC-licensed products across the world.
Analysts and investors are counting on Alibaba's solid e-commerce performance to continue as the company's main driver of revenue growth for the next few years. Meanwhile, facing competition from JD.com (JD) - Get JD.com Inc. Report and Tencent at home, Alibaba's international expansion in all divisions is increasingly seen as a long-term positive growth strategy by analysts on Wall street.
As Alibaba's earnings draw near, here's what to watch for:
Core Commerce: The growth rate for Alibaba's core China commerce retail business (Taobao/Tmall) was 41% with margins at 62% last quarter thanks to improving mobile monetization of its 450 million mobile active users. Analysts at MKM Partners expect Alibaba's solid trends in core commerce to continue not only on the e-commerce end but also offline consumer focus. The company's first deal of 2017 to take department store chain Intime Retail Group private for as much as $2.6 billion inspires confidence in Alibaba's retail footprint expansion. "Management sees online and offline commerce becoming highly intertwined in the coming years and has been consolidating competencies and footprint. The latest go-private proposal for department store Intime Retail should raise the profile of this strategy for investors and likely be a focus on the call," wrote Rob Sanderson, Managing Director at MKM Partners in a research note on Jan. 19.
Cloud Momentum: In Alibaba's latest partnership with the International Olympic Committee, the company struck a 12-year deal to provide cloud services including big data analytics support to the International Olympic Committee. Executives of IOC said the scale of the partnership is the biggest ever and admit there are other strong contenders for the cloud services provider. In December last year, Alibaba Cloud also officially entered the Japanese cloud computing market through joint venture with Masayoshi Son's SoftBank, going head-to-head with cloud services offered by U.S. companies Amazon (Amazon Web Services), Alphabet (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report (Google Cloud Platform), IBM (IBM) - Get International Business Machines Corporation Report , Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report (Microsoft Azure), Salesforce (CRM) - Get salesforce.com, inc. Report and Japanese information and communications technology company Fujitsu.
Alibaba Cloud is still a nascent and small part of its total business but it recorded a revenue growth of 130% year-over-year to RMB1,493 million (US$224 million) last quarter. The number of paying customers of Alibaba's cloud computing business also grew to 651,000 in the second quarter from 577,000 in the previous quarter.
Gross Margin: Alibaba's gross margin has been pressured due to capital expenditure and a shift in revenue mix towards newer businesses such as cloud services, online video, and local commerce services. Analysts expect escalated content spending in the Digital Media and Entertainment segment but also believe it is well understood and reflected in the stock. "The big three local players, Tencent, BABA and Baidu (BIDU) - Get Baidu Inc. Report , are all investing aggressively to win a top-2 share of the emerging media opportunity in China. We expect management will talk up investment spending/ talk down segment margins," wrote Sanderson of MKM Partners in the Jan. 19 note.
International E-commerce Sales: Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba has long talked of his aim for the company to receive half of its revenue from overseas businesses. Besides the company's $1 billion investment in Singapore-based Southeast Asian e-commerce site Lazada in April last year, Alibaba has also been eyeing India, investing in local online payment company Paytm and online shopping site Snapdeal. While Alibaba registered $427 million in international commerce retail and wholesale for the last quarter, investors are likely to expect higher numbers with its assortment of acquisitions since then.
With Ma's recent high-profile meeting with President Donald Trump and his attendance at the Davos Economic Forum, all eyes are on Alibaba to see whether it can deliver better results than last quarter. Investors registered muted and mixed sentiment while analysts remain more positive, with Alibaba landing in Deutsche Bank's top China internet pick for 2017 and MKM Partners' stocks with the most upside potential to their 12-month price targets.