Anti-monopoly fine pushes Alibaba to first operating loss as public company


FILE PHOTO: The logo of Alibaba Group is seen at its office in Beijing, China January 5, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD

(Reuters) -China's top e-commerce platform Alibaba Group Holding Ltd on Thursday posted its first quarterly operating loss since going public in 2014 due to a record anti-monopoly fine by the country's market regulator.

Its U.S.-listed shares fell nearly 3% in choppy trading, even as the company forecast strong 2022 revenue, betting that the pandemic-driven shift to online shopping will remain resilient.

The outlook, however, was overshadowed by a regulatory crackdown in China that led to the suspension of a $37 billion IPO of its affiliate Ant Group and a $2.8 billion fine in April for anti-competitive business practices.

The fine led to a 7.66 billion yuan ($1.19 billion)operating loss in the fourth quarter ended March 31.

"The Penalty Decision motivated us to reflect on the relationship between a platform economy and society, as well as our social responsibilities and commitments," Chief Executive Daniel Zhang said in an earnings call.

Alibaba forecast annual revenue of 930 billion yuan ($144.12 billion) for the year ending March 2022, above expectation of 928.25 billion yuan.

Core commerce revenue rose 72% to 161.37 billion yuan in the fourth quarter. But growth at its cloud computing unit slowed to 37% to 16.8 billion yuan from 58% a year earlier, its weakest since at least 2016.

Alibaba said it was due to a top customer with a "sizeable presence outside of China" ending its business for "non-product related reasons."

Overall revenue rose to 187.4 billion yuan in the fourth quarter, topping a Refinitiv forecast of 180.41 billion yuan.

Alibaba's U.S. listed shares have fallen more than 30% since hitting a record high in late October when its founder Jack Ma delivered a speech in Shanghai criticizing China's financial regulators.

The sinking share price reflects investor anxiety over regulation, said Brock Silvers, chief investment officer at Hong Kong-based Adamas Asset Management.

"The company has faced rogue waves of regulatory risk, which now threaten the entire tech sector."

($1 = 6.4545 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Chavi Mehta in Bengaluru and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Subrat Patnaik; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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