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Jack Ma’s new-year message to employees is also bad news for Alibaba investors

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Chinese workers are used to receiving cash gifts in little red envelopes to celebrate the new year

Jack Ma isn't pleased.

The Chinese billionaire founder and head of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Limited BABA, +2.24% won't be observing the Lunar New Year tradition of handing his employees little red envelopes containing cash gifts this week — because they don’t deserve them.

“In the past year, Alibaba Group hasn't had exceptional results and not had any special surprises,” Ma wrote Friday on his personal blog, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

“The success of becoming listed should not be a surprise as it was the result of all of Alibaba’s employees’ work over 15 years. But aside from going public, objectively speaking, we haven’t been [so] satisfied with our results in 2014 that we should distribute red envelopes.

‘But aside from going public, objectively speaking, we haven’t been [so] satisfied with our results in 2014 that we should distribute red envelopes.’
Jack Ma

“We must objectively and calmly see our own results, rationally regard external views and not let ourselves be lost in illusory fame,” he said.

The news is the latest setback for the company, which has seen its stock officially enter bear-market territory by falling more than 20% from its November high.

Earnings released in late January showed revenue growing at a slower pace than expected. Profit for the December quarter fell 28%.

And then there is its high-profile public dispute with the Chinese government, which has charged the company with failing to take sufficient action to stop the sale of fake goods on its sites and to deal with bribery and other illegal activity. In a white paper published in January, the government regulator lambasted the company, which responded vigorously with the threat of an official complaint against a senior official — an unusual spat in tightly controlled China

The company has since met with the regulator and appears to have agreed a truce.

But the law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP has filed a class-action suit against the company, charging it with misleading investors about the state of its business operations before its record-setting $25 billion initial public offering last September, and failing to disclose a high level of regulatory scrutiny, Caixin Online reported.

The stock entered bear-market territory on Jan. 29, just after the release of the government’s white paper and its earnings release. Wall Street views a stock as in bear-market terrain after a decline of 20% or more from a significant high. The stock remains a full 25.2% below the $119.15 high reached on Nov. 10.

Still, analysts polled by FactSet remain bullish on the stock, with an average buy rating and price target of $111.71. But that is 20% above its current trading level and a price the stock hasn’t touched since late December.

Ciara Linnane