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What Do Alibaba's Q4 Earnings Results Say About China's Economy?

China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba BABA announced its fourth quarter results Thursday, reporting earnings of 20 cents, missing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 38 cents. Nevertheless, revenues were $3.75 billion, blowing past our consensus estimate of $3.58 billion.

At first glance, the revenue picture for Alibaba looks great. Despite what appears to be a relatively weak economic situation in China, BABA’s sales rose nearly 40% year-over-year in local currency. The company’s gross merchandise volume (GMV) about 24% year-over-year, and its cloud computing business grew about 175%.

“Our focus on long-term strategic priorities — globalization, rural expansion, building a world-class cloud computing business and creating a comprehensive media and entertainment platform — has laid a strong foundation for future growth,” said Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang in the earnings release.

Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s vice chairman, spoke on the company’s earnings call, adding, “In challenging times for the global economy, Alibaba is bucking the trend.”

Tsai brings up a very interesting point here about how the global economy is weak, which is especially true in China. In many ways, the company’s impressive results are surprising given much of the recent news about of the country.

Earlier this week, stocks slipped on weaker-than-expected manufacturing data from the Asian powerhouse. Research firm Markit reported that manufacturing conditions across China deteriorated in April, with exports falling for the fifth straight month.

And yet, in the face of a weak economy, Alibaba performs well. The key here is to distinguish between the country’s manufacturing economy and its consumer economy. As it appears, China is slowly starting to shift from an export-focused economy to a consumer-focused one.

Of course, global markets will continue to react negatively to weak export data from China, especially since those figures tend to involve many international factors. Furthermore, a collapse in the country’s manufacturing sector would have a major impact on unemployment and overall wealth.

However, what we are seeing right now is marginal decline, not a full-on collapse. Alibaba’s results show us that Chinese consumers still have money to spend for the time being. Investors around the globe should continue to keep an eye on what is one of the world’s most interesting economies.

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