What’s Going On With Alibaba Cloud? – The Motley Fool

Once a rising star among Alibaba's (BABA -0.59%) diversified businesses, Alibaba Cloud has fallen from grace lately, with revenue growth coming to a halt.

And just when investors hoped that a complete spin-off of Alibaba Cloud from the group would rekindle growth and unlock shareholder value, the parent company's recent decision to cancel the spin-off further confused investors.

So, what's going on with the business? Let's explore that further.

Image source: Getty Images.

One of the biggest technological trends in the last decade is the migration from on-premises computing to cloud computing. One of the leaders in China's tech scene, Alibaba is an early mover in this industry, leveraging its colossal business empire and vast network of customers to build its cloud-computing business.

Thanks to its massive investment over the years, Alibaba Cloud became the most significant cloud player in China, with a 34% market share. And with the development of new trends like artificial intelligence (AI), IoT, etc., long-term prospects look excellent for Alibaba Cloud.

Yet, after delivering remarkable growth rates for many years, the cloud business had a meager 4% growth in the fiscal year 2023 ended March 31, 2023 . Worse, revenue fell 2% in the final quarter of fiscal year 2023. While it's hard to pinpoint specific reasons, the lack of management attention -- thanks to Alibaba's colossal business empire -- could be a key reason for the poor performance.

Fortunately, Alibaba is not sitting idle with the situation. It proposed a major restructuring by breaking down its empire into six major divisions, Alibaba Cloud being one of them. The objective was to let each business chart an independent path to bring back the entrepreneurial spirit needed to resume growth.

The parent company went further with Alibaba Cloud by proposing a complete spin-off, which included giving up its control of this subsidiary so that the latter could chart its path with total autonomy. Besides, Alibaba's ex-Chairman and CEO, Daniel Zhang, would step down from the parent to focus solely on leading Alibaba Cloud.

In short, Alibaba had a plan for Alibaba Cloud to regain its glory.

Everything looked great with Alibaba's plan for its subsidiary until recently.

In September 2023, Alibaba shocked its investors when Daniel Zhang stepped down from Alibaba Group, relinquishing his chairman and CEO role in Alibaba and Alibaba Cloud. The Alibaba Group's new CEO, Eddie Wu, became the chairman and CEO of Alibaba Cloud. The sudden change in the top leadership in Alibaba Cloud cast a massive cloud around the prospects of this business.

And if that's not enough, the new leadership in Alibaba Group decided to shelve the spin-off of Alibaba Cloud, announcing its decision in the latest earnings announcement. The reason? A full spin-off of Alibaba Cloud business may not create the intended value for shareholders amid the uncertainties around its prospects caused by U.S. export restrictions on advanced computing chips.

Instead, Alibaba Group will continue to invest in this business long term, focusing on developing a sustainable growth model leveraging AI-driven demand growth.

Many investors (myself included) were disappointed when Alibaba changed direction with the Alibaba Cloud spin-off.

Still, it's not uncommon for new management to set a new strategic direction for the company. And while investors lost the opportunity to participate directly in Alibaba Cloud's future growth by owning its shares, they can still benefit indirectly by remaining as Alibaba's shareholders.

Besides, Alibaba Cloud will still have its own independent board and management team, so it is still well-positioned to operate independently, albeit with access to better support from Alibaba, as it remains under the parent's umbrella.

In all, investors should now look forward to the future. As one of those investors, I will closely monitor whether Alibaba Cloud can solve its growth issues in the coming quarters. If it can, I will be more comfortable with the parent's decision to keep its child under its control.

What's Going On With Alibaba Cloud? - The Motley Fool

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