In previous articles, I’ve challenged the notion that Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NYSE:BABA) compared well to Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN). I argued it more closely resembled eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY). I still believe it resembles eBay in its core business and that’s how we should see Alibaba stock.
Given this status, investors must ask if Alibaba stock resembles Jack Welch’s GE, a de facto mutual fund under one company, or Jeff Immelt’s GE, the grouping of unrelated businesses that cannot succeed as part of the same entity?
Is Alibaba Stock a Reasonably-Priced Conglomerate?
When looking at news stories regarding Alibaba stock, it feels like they announce a new investment or joint venture just about every day. Recently, they invested in Zomato and Ele.me, and have discussed a joint venture with Kroger Co (NYSE:KR).
The company has also challenged Baidu Inc (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU) in search. They invested in Wanda Film Holding, owner of AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc (NYSE:AMC). Also, a banker from JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) will invest in an Alibaba-backed venture on electric cars.
Its various investments have taken Alibaba stock to a $475 billion market cap. Interestingly, GE attained a market cap at that level toward the end of Jack Welch’s tenure. Assuming all of these ventures can succeed in the same company, Alibaba stock appears cheap.
The stock currently trades at a price-to-earnings (PE) ratio standing at just over 45. The PE falls to a little more than 26 when looking at forward earnings. BABA also enjoyed an average of 60% earnings growth over the last five years. Many investors will buy such a company—if they believe in the story.
Should Investors Doubt BABA Financials?
Still, even if Executive Chairman Jack Ma has become the Jack Welch of Chinese business, who’s to say the company can succeed under new leadership? GE lost $150 billion in market cap during Immelt’s 16-year tenure at GE. We don’t yet know how Alibaba remains strong on its own or because of the leadership of one man.
Moreover, just like doubts GE’s financials under Jeff Immelt have come to light, questions have arisen about BABA’s accounting practices.
Our own Josh Enomoto, who believes Alibaba stock resides under a “cloud of suspicion” over financials, remains far from the only skeptic. Despite its numerous new ventures, BABA stock has seen little upward movement in the last three months.
Count me as a doubter as well. The stock built its reputation as a middleman. It has never invested in the warehouse and logistics infrastructure, unlike Amazon or its domestic peer JD.Com Inc (ADR) (NASDAQ:JD).
Also, the claim that it sold more merchandise in a day than Sears Holdings Corp (NASDAQ:SHLD) sold in a year appears exaggerated. The company reported $158.27 billion in revenue in 2017. Given that figure, claims that $25 billion of that revenue came in a single day remain difficult to accept at face value.
So Which GE Is BABA?
As to whether BABA more closely resembles Welch’s or Immelt’s GE, characteristics of both appear. Just like Jack Welch, Jack Ma has pieced together numerous unrelated businesses and found success as a conglomerate. However, like Immelt’s GE, doubts about the company’s accounting have come to light.
More importantly, should investors stake their investment capital on this question? To me, investors are better served by buying an ETF or a mutual fund if they want to invest in several different companies in one entity. If nothing else, accounting worries within one company won’t sink such an investment.
Moreover, if they want to buy the “Amazon of China,” JD remains the company that owns the warehouses and the goods, not Alibaba. No matter the desire, investors have better available alternatives than BABA stock.
As of this writing, Will Healy did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned stocks.