Jack Ma retired on September 10 as executive chairman of Alibaba Group (NASDAQ:BABA) to become Bill Gates. (Or, maybe, Andrew Carnegie.)
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The Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) co-founder retired at age 58 to become a full-time philanthropist and student of the world. Carnegie eventually gave away his entire fortune, worth $76 billion in 2019 dollars. Ma is retiring at age 55, he says to become a teacher.
After building a company many liken to Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.Com (NASDAQ:AMZN), Ma leaves a company at a crossroads under his chosen successor, Daniel Zhang.
The crossroads is between China and the world. Its way forward is the cloud.
Alibaba’s base of China suffers from a depreciating currency, which the government is being forced to prop up. It’s the primary victim of the Trump trade war, which is slowing growth.
But BABA has a way out. Alibaba’s cloud, launched in 2009, is going global rapidly. It’s expanding into Europe and dominating in Asia where it has a 19% marketshare, eclipsing even Amazon, with services in 15 different regions.
Among Alibaba’s latest partners is Equinix (NASDAQ:EQIX), a $46 billion cloud landlord whose shares are up 53% so far in 2019. Alibaba is now providing services in the U.S. through alliances with companies like Fortinet (NASDAQ:FTNT), privately-held WordPress and International Business Machine’s (NYSE:IBM) Red Hat unit.
While Amazon offers infrastructure and Microsoft offers a platform, Alibaba is providing a full application stack, including financial and database applications. Its targets aren’t just big enterprises, but small businesses for which it will take their entire data and computing budget as they grow.
Zhang now says cloud will be “Alibaba’s main business in the future.” That’s a real change for Zhang. His first Alibaba strategy was known as “New Retail.” He bought supermarkets and shopping centers, making the company look more like Walmart (NYSE:WMT) to the average Chinese consumer.
Even having delayed its Hong Kong offering due to the continuing crisis there, Alibaba is the 7th most valuable company in the world by market cap. It trails only the five U.S. “Cloud Czars” and Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A).
After a rough May, the shares are still up nearly 30% on the year. They carry a price to earnings multiple of 50 and bring about 23% of revenue to the net income line. For its first fiscal quarter, reported in August, Alibaba had net income of nearly $2.8 billion, $1.17 per share, on revenue of $16.7 billion. That’s a net income gain of 146% on just 42% more revenue.
Cloud revenue was up 66%, while core commerce revenue was up just 44%, with much of that coming from logistics and consumer services. The numbers sent the stock up 11.6% over the last month, despite continuing tensions.
The Bottom Line for BABA Stock
Ma’s retirement and birthday ceremony was held in the football stadium of his hometown. There he said he hopes to engage in projects that avoid any connection to politics.
But he’s too big for that. That may also be true for Alibaba, and that’s the only cloud on its horizon.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the environmental story, Bridget O’Flynn and the Bear, available at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned shares in BABA, MSFT and AMZN.