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Alibaba Posts $1 Billion in Sales in 5 Minutes on Singles’ Day

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. posted $1 billion (6.81 billion yuan) of sales within the first five minutes of its Singles’ Day shopathon, a 24-hour event that may offer clues on the health of the Chinese economy and its largest online retailer.

Investors are keeping a close eye on the annual Nov. 11 spending blitz that dwarfs Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the U.S., to see if Alibaba can reprise the 60 percent leap in transactions to 91.2 billion yuan it managed last year. The e-commerce giant again turned up the star-wattage for 2016, enlisting Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson, sports celebrity David Beckham, basketball legend Kobe Bryant and pop-rock band One Republic to headline a pre-sale gala and drum up international attention.

Pioneered by Alibaba in 2009 and since replicated by rivals including Inc., Singles’ Day has become somewhat of a barometer of Chinese consumer sentiment. Executives have set the bar high, confidently predicting another record-breaking endeavor at a time when the economy’s growing at its slowest pace in a quarter-century and a weakening yuan may curb enthusiasm for foreign wares.

“Alibaba will likely break another Singles’ Day sales record this year as bargain-seeking Chinese consumers again flex their spending muscle and shrug off any concerns there may be about China’s slowing economy,” said Andria Cheng, an eMarketer analyst. “Many...