Alibaba Group (BABA) may have a stock that is outperforming U.S. rivals eBay Inc. (EBAY) and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), but when it comes to its bonds, investors in China want a wider spread than for U.S. counterparts.
While that may seem like a knock on a company that has a credit rating similar to its American competitors and a stock that is up more than 90% this year, Bank of America Merrill Lynch sees it as an opportunity. In a research note covered by TheStreet.com, the Wall Street investment firm said the wide spread in Alibaba bonds presents an opportunity to buy the debt given its strong showing in its fiscal first quarter, which it reported last week.
For the three-month period ended in June, the Chinese e-commerce giant posted revenue from its cloud business that jumped 96% to $359 million and revealed it surpassed 1 million paying customers for the first time ever. Overall revenue in the quarter increased 56% year-over-year, core commerce revenue jumped 58% and revenue from its digital media unit increased 30%. Annual active consumers on its e-commerce platforms grew by 12 million compared to last year’s fiscal first quarter, while mobile monthly active users hit 529 million in June, an increase of 22 million from last year’s fiscal first quarter. (See also: Alibaba's Jack Ma Again Asia's Richest Man.)
An Alibaba Bump?
BofA Merrill, which has a overweight rating on the stock, said that by purchasing bonds now, investors get ahead of its bond premiums moving closer to its rivals in the U.S. The company has been pouring billions of dollars into new areas as it moves beyond the saturated Chinese e-commerce market, making bets on everything from grocery stores to Chinese telecom companies.
In May, Alibaba announced a $6 billion share buyback program. At the time, the company said it will acquire the shares over the course of two years with the share repurchase plan primarily aimed at offsetting dilution from its equity-based compensation programs. The new program replaces the existing stock buyback program on the books.
This spring, it also invested $1 billion in Ele.me, a Chinese food delivery service giving the grocery delivery startup a $5.5 billion to $6 billion valuation. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Baidu (BIDU) is gearing up to sell its grocery service to Ele.me, which is getting help with the purchase from Alibaba and its financial unit Ant Financial. (See also: Baidu to Sell its Food Delivery Service: Report.)
The big bets on the part of the company prompted Northern Trust Capital to raise concerns that it is engaging in risky, capital-intensive bets that need to pay off to sustain the lofty stock price. What’s more, the Wall Street firm argued the shares are rising much faster than real earnings.