How Alibaba's 3% Reduction in Outstanding Shares Affects the Stock's Future

During the 12 months ended December 31, 2023, Alibaba Group Holding Limited (BABA) repurchased a total of 897.9 million ordinary shares for $9.5 billion. This includes the purchase of 292.7 million ordinary shares for a total of $2.9 billion during the fourth quarter.

The shares were purchased in both the U.S. and Hong Kong markets under its share repurchase program, the company said in a filing.

The Chinese e-commerce giant said that it had 20 billion ordinary shares outstanding as of December 31, 2023, compared to 20.7 billion ordinary shares from December 31, 2022. This indicates a net reduction of 3.3% in its outstanding shares.

The remaining amount that the company’s Board had authorized for its share repurchase program, which is effective through March 2025, was $11.7 billion as of December 31, 2023.

When a company buys back its own shares from the marketplace, it reduces the total number of shares outstanding. As a result, the value of the remaining shares increases. The company’s Board may feel that its shares are undervalued, making it a favorable time to purchase them. Meanwhile, investors often perceive a buyback as an expression of confidence by the management.

Therefore, in the case of Alibaba, a more than 3% reduction in outstanding shares will positively impact its shareholder value and give a significant boost to the stock’s performance this year.

Now, let’s review several other factors that could influence BABA’s performance in the near term:

Strategic Reorganization

Last year in March, BABA announced plans to split its business into six independent units in a strategic move to unlock shareholder value and advance competitiveness.

“This transformation will empower all our businesses to become more agile, enhance decision-making, and enable faster responses to market changes,” said Daniel Zhang, former CEO and chairman of Alibaba Group.

Under the restructuring, Alibaba will be split up into six newly formed business units: Cloud Intelligence Group, Taobao Tmall Commerce Group, Local Services Group, Cainiao Smart Logistics, International Digital Commerce Group, and Digital Media and Entertainment Group.

Each business unit will be overseen by its own chief executive and board of directors. Five of the new business clusters “will also have the flexibility to raise outside capital and potentially to seek its own IPO,” the company said.

As per the latest update on business group spin-offs and capital raisings, the recent expansion of U.S. restrictions on the export of advanced computing chips has created uncertainties for the Cloud Intelligence Group’s prospects.

The company believes that a complete spin-off of Cloud Intelligence Group may not achieve the intended effect of shareholder value enhancement. Correspondingly, it decided not to proceed with a full spin-off and instead will focus on developing a sustainable growth model for Cloud Intelligence Group under fluid circumstances.

In terms of Alibaba International Digital Commerce Group, it is in preparation for external fundraising. Further, Cainiao Smart Logistics Network Limited applied for an initial public offering in Hong Kong and submitted its AI filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Capitalizing on the AI Boom

BABA’s newly appointed CEO, Eddie Wu, stressed putting AI and user experience at the top of the company’s priorities to reclaim customers and market share in an immensely competitive arena.

“Over the next decade, the most significant change agent will be the disruptions brought about by AI across all sectors,” Wu said in his note, reviewed by Bloomberg News. “If we don’t keep up with the changes of the AI era, we will be displaced.”

Wu added that Alibaba will reinforce strategic investments in the areas of AI-driven tech businesses, internet platforms, and its global commerce network.

On January 9, 2024,, a leading platform for global B2B e-commerce and part of Alibaba International Digital Commerce Group, introduced its latest Smart Assistant features powered by AI at CES in Las Vegas, NV.

The Smart Assistant is an AI-powered sourcing tool that caters to newcomers and seasoned entrepreneurs in the dynamic world of global commerce, helping them discover new opportunities, stay up-to-date on trends, seamlessly track orders and more in a single, efficient touchpoint.

Also, in October 2023, Alibaba launched an upgraded version of its AI model as the Chinese tech giant looks to challenge its U.S. rivals, including, Inc. (AMZN) and Microsoft Corporation (MSFT).

BABA launched Tongyi Qianwen 2.0, its latest large language model (LLM). Tongyi Qianwen 2.0 “demonstrates remarkable capabilities in understanding complex instructions, copywriting, reasoning, memorizing, and preventing hallucinations,” the company said. 

Alibaba stated that Tongyi Qianwen 2.0 is a “substantial upgrade from its predecessor,” which was introduced in April. Also, the Hangzhou-based company announced the GenAI Service Platform, which allows companies to build their own generative AI applications using their own data.  

Solid Last Reported Financials

For the fiscal 2024 second quarter that ended September 30, 2023, BABA reported revenue of $31.04 billion, an increase of 8.5% year-over-year. The revenue slightly surpassed analysts’ estimate of $30.84 billion. Alibaba International Digital Commerce Group rose 53% year-over-year, while Cainiao Smart Logistics Network Limited and Local Services Group grew 25% and 16%, respectively.

Alibaba’s income from operations increased 33.6% from the year-ago value to $4.60 billion. The company’s adjusted EBITDA came in at $6.75 billion, up 13.7% from the prior year’s quarter. Also, its adjusted EBITA rose 18% year-over-year to $5.87 billion, primarily contributed by revenue growth and improved operating efficiency.

Furthermore, the Chinese tech giant’s non-GAAP net income for the quarter came in at $5.51 billion, an increase of 18.8% from the prior year’s period. It posted non-GAAP net income per share of $2.16, compared to the consensus estimate of $2.09, and up 21% year-over-year.

As of September 30, 2023, Alibaba’s cash and cash equivalents, short-term investments and other treasury investments, included in equity securities and other investments on the consolidated balance sheets, were $85.60 billion. During the quarter ended September 30, 2023, cash inflows from operating activities were $6.75 billion, up 4% from the same quarter of 2022.

Also, the company’s free cash flow was $6.20 billion, an increase of 27% year-over-year.

Impressive Historical Growth

Over the past five years, BABA’s revenue and EBITDA grew at CAGRs of 24.1% and 15.5%, respectively. The company’s net income and EPS rose at respective CAGRs of 17% and 17.3% over the same timeframe. Its levered free cash flow improved at 8.2% CAGR over the same period.

Moreover, the company’s tangible book value and total assets increased at CAGRs of 34.2% and 17% over the same timeframe, respectively.

Favorable Analyst Estimates

Analysts expect BABA’s revenue for the fiscal year (ending March 2024) to grow 8% year-over-year to $133.38 billion. The consensus EPS estimate of $9.20 for the ongoing year indicates an 18.6% year-over-year increase. Moreover, Alibaba has surpassed the consensus EPS estimates in each of the trailing four quarters, which is impressive.

For the fiscal year 2025, the company’s revenue and EPS are expected to increase 8.9% and 7.8% from the previous year to $145.27 billion and $9.92, respectively.

Low Valuation

In terms of forward non-GAAP P/E, BABA is currently trading at 7.83x, 50.1% lower than the industry average of 15.68x. The stock’s forward EV/Sales of 1.11x is 10.7% lower than the industry average of 1.24x. Likewise, its forward EV/EBITDA of 5.17x is 48.2% lower than the industry average of 9.99x.

In addition, the stock’s forward Price/Book multiple of 1.18 is 53.8% lower than the industry average of 2.55. Also, its forward Price/Cash Flow of 7.20x is 27.2% lower than the industry average of 9.88x.

Robust Profitability

BABA’s trailing-12-month EBIT margin of 14.66% is 92.9% higher than the 7.60% industry average. Moreover, the stock’s trailing-12-month levered FCF margin and net income margin of 14.17% and 56.87% are considerably higher than the industry averages of 5.37% and 4.52%, respectively.

Furthermore, the stock’s trailing-12-month ROCE, ROTC, and ROTA of 13.35%, 6.34% and 7.32% favorably compared to the respective industry averages of 11.40%, 6.05%, and 4%. Also, its trailing-12-month gross profit margin of 37.73% is 6.6% higher than the industry average of 35.38%.

Stock Upgrades

On November 24, 2023, Goldman Sachs analyst Ronald Keung maintained a Buy rating on BABA shares, with a price target of $134, suggesting that shares are anticipated to surge by nearly 73% over the coming year. The analyst stated that its FCF generation will fund ongoing buybacks and dividends. Also, he continues to view the stock’s valuation as attractive.

Bottom Line

BABA beat second-quarter analyst expectations for earnings and revenue. Revenue grew approximately 9% year-over-year in the last reported quarter, and the company posted expanded margins as its income from operations rose an impressive 24%. Also, the stock’s valuation is extremely attractive.

Alibaba further pleased its investors with last year’s announcement of plans to split its business into six separate units in a move to unlock more shareholder value and foster competitiveness. Also, the company continues to leverage AI across its operations. Its AI-powered systems optimize its pricing, marketing, and logistics, ultimately resulting in enhanced user experience.

As per Statista, the AI market in China is projected to reach a staggering $38.89 billion in 2024. In global comparison, the largest market will be in the U.S. ($106.50 billion this year). China’s AI market is further expected to show a CAGR of 18%, resulting in a market volume of $104.70 billion by 2030.

Alibaba’s AI leadership positions it to capitalize on the significant growth potential of the Chinese AI market. Also, the company has introduced its upgraded AI model to compete with its U.S. rivals, such as AMZN and MSFT.

“Through a more flexible organizational governance mechanism, we aim to capture brand new opportunities from the ongoing AI technological transformation and create more value for our customers,” said CEO Eddie Wu in BABA’s latest earnings release.

Notably, Alibaba’s 3.3% reduction in its outstanding shares because of a share buyback program will further create a greater value for its shareholders. Given BABA’s solid financials, accelerating profitability, attractive valuation, and bright growth prospects, this tech stock appears an ideal buy now.