(Reuters) – Alibaba Group Holding Ltd reported better-than-expected quarterly revenue on Thursday, helped by its efforts to cut costs and China’s easing of COVID-19 curbs.
The e-commerce giant has weathered a weak economy in China, which only lifted its three-year zero-COVID policy in December.
Revenue rose 2% to 247.76 billion yuan ($35.92 billion) for its fiscal third quarter to Dec. 31, compared with a Refinitiv consensus estimate of 245.18 billion yuan drawn from 23 analysts.
Net income attributable to ordinary shareholders rose 69% to 46.82 billion yuan from 27.69 billion a year earlier.
Alibaba’s slowing sales growth https://www.reuters.com/graphics/ALIBABA-REVENUE/zjvqjyjgmpx/chart.png
U.S. shares of Alibaba were up 1.8% shortly after Wall Street opened, after trading as much as 6% higher in pre-market trades.
China’s total retail sales contracted 1.8% in December, while its economy posted one its worst growth rates in nearly half a century in 2022, expanding just 3%.
Alibaba has weathered the storm in part by rolling back its international operations and cutting staff, with its earnings report pointing to a total reduction of 19,576 employees in 2022, or 7.5%.
Retail spending in China is expected to remain weak for the first part of the year, though analysts expect that stimulus policies and the eventual release of consumer savings will occur around springtime.
In an earnings call with investors, Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said the economy is “getting back on track” and “consumer confidence and business confidence are rising.”
Alibaba’s key customer management revenue metric, which tracks payments from vendors and is the company’s largest sales segment, fell 9% year on year.
On top of a sluggish economy, the company is also looking upward from a regulatory crackdown that began in late 2020.
Founder Jack Ma, who has receded from the public spotlight since the start of the crackdown, has been spending much of his time outside China in places such as Japan and Australia, according to media reports.
Ma relinquished control of Ant Group, the fintech 33% owned by Alibaba and a key target for Beijing regulators, in January.
Ant logged a profit of 3.05 billion yuan for the quarter ending in late September, down 82.7% year on year. Alibaba reports its profit from Ant Group one quarter in arrears.
Chinese authorities, who have been seeking to restore private sector confidence and spur economic activity, have said that they will step up support for private firms and ease the crackdown.
Earlier this month Alibaba said it was developing a ChatGPT-like AI tool, which it was testing internally at the company, amid global enthusiasm for the OpenAi chatbot.
A bevy of other Chinese tech giants and research institutes, including Baidu and JD.com are also developing similar platforms.
Zhang said Alibaba will “continue to build its own large-scale pretraining model” for AI and also provide the computing power for such models via its cloud computing division.
($1 = 6.8985 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Eva Mathews in Bengaluru and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Jason Neely, Kirsten Donovan)