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Should You Short Alibaba?

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A blog post about Alibaba and Chinese e-commerce companies more broadly by an accounting/auditing blogger has recently made its rounds on the internet. Most investors first became aware of it after is was shared on Twitter by Muddy Waters Research, an investment company specialized in revealing frauds and scams in Chinese companies and then taking short positions in the stock.

Muddy Waters is a highly respected firm that many traders follow for tips on possible shorts. The company has also made good money in the past by exposing inflated numbers and frauds in the stock market.

On the same day as Muddy Waters sent out the tweet, Barron’s picked up the story and later offered Alibaba to comment on it, but the company declined.

The blogger in the center of all of this, who says he prefers to remain anonymous, points to the sales figures released by Alibaba after the 11/11 shopping spree, aka Single’s Day in China, as ridiculous and too good to be true. For example, he mentions that Alibaba’s sales for just this one day came in a little over K-mart or Sears’ total annual revenue.

Alibaba vs. Amazon

The best comparison to make to get the numbers in perspective, however, is Amazon. So, let’s take a look at how Amazon’s numbers compare to Alibaba’s so you can make up your own mind on whether you believe them or not:

  • Alibaba Single’s Day revenue (1 day!): US$25 billion
  • Amazon 2016 Q4 revenue (91 days): US$43.7 billion

In other words, Alibaba in just one day sold a little more than half of what Amazon (including AWS) sold in all of Q4 2016.

The blog author, along with Muddy Waters and various people on Twitter, are mocking these numbers and Alibaba by pointing to Alibaba’s logistics system in China as incapable of delivering packages at this scale.

Anyone who has spent some time in Chinese cities have seen how packages are sorted on sidewalks in seemingly random locations around town.

Or as the author puts it, “why invest in all that expensive GPS, scanning, package, tracking automation when you can just dump your packages on the sidewalk and let homeless people figure out how to get them where they are supposed to go?”

Still, most people who have spent time in China would also agree that this seemingly chaotic system in fact works incredibly well, packages rarely get lost, and delivery is unbelievably fast.

Those who know China also know how huge online shopping really is here, not to mention on days like 11/11. Thanks to extremely low shipping fees, fast delivery, and easy-to-use shopping apps for smartphones, online shopping is much bigger in China than in any Western market like the US or Europe. According to available statistics figures, 20% of Chinese retail is online compared to 9.1% in the US.

Also, keep in mind that Alibaba is a massive company, with much more than just Alibaba.com as part of its business. For example, Taobao.com is the number 1 e-commerce platform in China, connecting shoppers with independent sellers. Tmall.com is also a huge player, but is more focused on sales from well-established businesses and brands. Take a look at the full picture below:

Alibaba businesses

Alibaba’s organizational structure is a mess

While I am skeptical of the notion that all of Alibaba’s numbers are somehow made up, the same blogger deserves credit for pointing out some interesting things about the company’s organizational structure in another post on his blog.

Their structure is, to put it mildly, a huge mess. Take a look for yourself in the chart below:

Alibaba organizational structure

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this is the footnote to the chart not shown here. According to the footnote found on the SEC website, there are approximately 120 entities incorporated in China and other countries + about 200 subsidiaries and consolidated entities that are not included in the chart.

One can easily argue that the only possible reason for structuring a company as a labyrinth at this level is to make it effectively un-auditable and eliminate any risk for Jack Ma himself and other key people in the company.

Also, investors should really ask themselves what type of ownership claim they have on Alibaba’s business when buying shares in the Cayman Islands holding company, which what is traded on Wall Street. It is very unclear what, if any, ownership claim they have on the real-world business that Alibaba conducts from its Hangzhou, China headquarters.

As a final point, it also remains unclear who actually audits Alibaba. Officially it is audited by PwC Hong Kong, but the reality may be different. Most likely, Alibaba is audited by PwC on the mainland, and signed off by their colleagues in Hong Kong, who are operating under a completely different set of rules.

To summarize:

  • Alibaba has lots of brand names operating under its umbrella, some in China and some globally.
  • 20% of Chinese retail is online vs. 9% in the US.
  • China’s online population is 751 million people vs. 287 million in the US.
  • Alibaba’s shares traded in the US is for a Cayman Islands holding company, with unclear connections to the real-world business operations in Hangzhou.
  • We know very few details about how Alibaba is audited.

Should you short Alibaba?

My simple answer at this time is still no. While their revenue figures seem extremely high, I don’t necessarily think they are inflated. Other aspects of their business, such as the corporate structure and auditing issue, seem more questionable to me.

Alibaba chart

The stock has gained about 100% so far in 2017, and with momentum like that, shorting can be dangerous. However, if we see clear signs of a slow-down in the Chinese economy going into 2018, Alibaba would be high on my list of potential stocks to sell short.

The next few days will tell us if the recent uptrend in the price will be maintained, or if the price will break down below the trend line. If a break-down does happen, an opportunity to short may present itself even sooner.

Keep a close eye on Alibaba’s stock price in the first few weeks of December for confirmation of where the market is going.

Featured image from Pixabay.

Disclaimer: The author does not hold any positions in Alibaba or related companies.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.3 stars on average, based on 37 rated postsFredrik Vold is an entrepreneur, financial writer, and technical analysis enthusiast. He has been working and traveling in Asia for several years, and is currently based out of Beijing, China. He closely follows stocks, forex and cryptocurrencies, and is always looking for the next great alternative investment opportunity.




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Analysis

Waiting for the Costco Earnings Report

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By Dmitriy Gurkovskiy, Chief Analyst at RoboMarkets

Retail companies are among the best investment choices right before the New Year. Let’s see whether it is really true by analyzing Costco, a retail company whose Q4 earnings report is due on Dec 13.

Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ: COST) is the largest self-service warehouse chain across the globe and the fifth retail company in the US with the most sales. The company sells domestic appliances, foods, chemicals and cleaning agents, clothes, consumer electronics, etc. There is a loyalty program, and members get discounts. Among the members, around 90% are active customers. Costco is conquering the e-commerce world, too, but online sales contribute just 4% to the entire revenue, so the potential here is great.

The company buys products right from the manufacturers and sends them to warehouses, where they are sold to consumers. This saves time and money on multi-level distribution while maximizing the turnover and sales. Currently, there are 768 Costco warehouses in the world, including 533 in the US, 10 in Canada, 39 in Mexico, 28 in the UK, 26 in Japan, 15 in South Korea, 13 in Taiwan, 10 in Australia, two in Spain, and one in France and Iceland. With Costco stock being quite choppy, it has still been a safe haven for most investors, as both the stock price and the dividends have been growing steadily. Over the last 24 months, Costco was better than such competition as Target Corporation (NYSE: TGT), Kroger (NYSE: KR), and Walmart (NYSE: WMT), performing even better than S&P 500.

Costco earnings are season-based, yet its overall trend is ascending.

The debt to equity ratio is under 1.00, while the shorts are just 1.20%. Costco is interesting for investors mostly because of its dividends it’s been paying for over 15 years. In 2004, one share paid $0.10, while in 2018 it is $0.57. The share price also rose considerably, from $40 to $240, which was a great profit for long-term investors (6x+).

In November, retail sales amounted to $12.77B, which is 9.80% more than 12 months ago. The Q4 earnings report may be positive as well. Kroger (NYSE: KR), which had already reported its earnings, exceeded analysts’ expectations, which proves Costco’s report may trigger the same effect.

Fundamentally, there are no negative factors across the board, while, technically, one may want to wait for a better chance that will surely come. The report due this week is 90% likely to exceed expectations, that will push the stock upwards in the short term. However, in W1, one can see the stock has been growing abnormally since June and is well above the 200-day SMA. This is usually followed with an appropriate correction. Besides, when the stock hit $250, its volatility increased.

In terms of candlestick analysis, there are two engulfing patterns, which means the price may start falling soon. It may well test $200 and then go up again, in case there’s enough volume coming from the investors’ interest.

On D1, the stock may rise in the short term because of the good earnings report, as mentioned earlier. This is confirmed by both the support at $218 and the increase in volume. This increase, however, is becoming more and more humble over time. Thus, in case $218 gets broken out, the price may go down, which is confirmed with W1 chart. Buying COST right now expecting a good earnings report on Dec 13 is risky.

The price may rise only in case the report beats expectations, though; otherwise, the stock may fall down quickly to reach $200.

Overall, trading Costco straight away is not the best idea and will suit only those who are hunting for adrenaline. The company looks well attractive for a long-term investment next year, but waiting for a better price is the best thing you can do.

Costco is popular with hedge fund managers, too. As of late Q3, 39 hedge funds had it, including Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, with Costco shares worth over $1B.

The P/E is 31.50, which means you will need quite a lot of time for your investment to prove profitable (Apple’s P/E, for instance, is 13.87). Thus, it’s better to wait until the hype comes down, and only then take a long position on Costco Wholesale Corporation.

Disclaimer

Any predictions contained herein are based on the authors’ particular opinion. This analysis shall not be treated as trading advice. RoboMarkets shall not be held Company for the results of the trades arising from relying upon trading recommendations and reviews contained herein.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 21 rated postsHaving majored in both Social Psychology and Economics, I went on to continue my education in post graduate. Later I worked as a team lead of a tech and fundamental analysis lab in the Applied System Analysis Research Institute. This helped me to acquire all necessary skills and experience to become a successful trader and analyst, as well as a portfolio manager in an investment company. I'm a pro in the financial field and the author of articles for various international media. I also hold the position of Chief Analyst at RoboMarkets.




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Analysis

General Motors Fires 27,000 People, Stock Jumps by 5%

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By Dmitriy Gurkovskiy, Chief Analyst at RoboMarkets

In early November, we commented on GM, arguing that the stock may reach $40. Not much time has passed, and yet many key events occurred, which increased the volatility in General Motors’ stock. Currently, any major rise is unlikely, as Donald Trump is now taking part in this.

Until recently, things were quite in line with the technical analysis, with the stock correcting to $33.80 and then going up to reach $40.

See the prediction chart we made on Nov 2, below:

On Nov 26, however, GM announced its cost reduction campaign that included firing up to 15% of the employees and around 25% of the management, as well as closing the factories in Michigan, Maryland, and Ohio in the US, and Ontario, Canada.

This was very bad news for the families of the fired employees, but the investors liked it, which pushed the stock up by 5% within a single trading session.

This job cut is of course not in line with Trump’s policy; while the US president is trying to bring the manufacturing back to the US by cutting the tax rates, GM is closing the US based factories, while still maintaining those in Mexico and China. Trump finally said the US government might cut off the tax exemptions for GM,

And this can be well understood. This is not only about the job cut. In 2009, the US government paid $30B just to save the company, which then went public right after bankruptcy. Now, 9 years later, GM is closing its US based factories, but still maintains those in Mexico, where the local government also took part in rescuing the company.

GM reacted on the president’s words with a comment that the trade wars led by Trump made the steel and aluminum import more expensive, which meant the exported GM products were no longer as competitive as before. The major reason lies, however, in bad sales of automobiles. The Q3 earnings report was good, but not because sales were high; rather, it was because car prices went up.

By cutting production, GM is going to save up around $6B, thus doubling its investment into electric car development, including driverless ones.

The only company that wants to increase the manufacturing capacity in the US is Tesla, and, for it, the GM news is very good, as the company may buy the factories being closed and start producing Tesla cars there. This made the Tesla stock rise by over 1%. It would rise much higher in case the decision by GM was final, but it is not.

GM may still keep the US based factories, closing only those in South Korea next year. However, it remains to be seen whether economic and social pressure will get GM to reverse its decision or prolong its factories in North America.

If this is the case, it will be a win-win, as investors will get a higher stock price, the government will keep the jobs, and GM will get additional privileges.

However, GM may still close the US factories, and in this case, nothing may be predicted for sure. Trump’s policy is well unpredictable anyway, and his threats on GM losing its tax exemption privileges may come true. GM will anyways get the positive effect of the factories closing in the short term, but, in a longer term, the company’s activities in the US may suffer a lot. In this case, everything will depend on the factories in the rest of the world, where GM has better conditions.

Thus, fundamentally, the outlook is uncertain and somewhat negative. Let’s see what we can do here with some tech analysis.

Support and resistance levels are key here. The resistance at $37 formed after the earnings report and was active for around a month. Over this time, a key support appeared at $34, then other support levels formed at $35 and $36, which finally broke out the resistance at $37.

It was first broken out when the job cut news came in, but then Trump’s criticism made the price correct; still, it was soon back near $37.

Thus, the report led to a high demand for GM shares, which was followed by a consolidation, as all positions had been taken and the market needed new buyers. Nobody wanted to buy at $37, though, so the price pulled back to $34, where it actually had been before the report came out.

This motivated investors to buy at this good price, and the stock went up quickly.

While the price was going up, new support levels were being formed, which could signal an uptrend. A new support was formed at around $35, which means the investors were no longer expecting any major pullbacks.

When the news on GM job cut came out, new buyers jumped in, which pushed the stock over $38. Those who were late to buy were waiting for a pullback to buy at a better price, which formed another support at $36. The price then went up to $37, where it is currently now.

All this means is that investors have been adding long positions in GM over the last two months, the short float is very low, just 1.99%.

A large amount of longs has a drawback: in case most investors decide to quit, this will lead to a sharp decline. Thus, it is important to find the expected exit point.

In order to find it, one should determine when the stock became popular. This can be easily found at the moment when the earnings report came in.

This particular price level, $33, is a good stop loss; right here, the investors may stop expecting the price to rise and start closing their positions.

Disclaimer

Any predictions contained herein are based on the authors’ particular opinion. This analysis shall not be treated as trading advice. RoboMarkets shall not be held liable for the results of the trades arising from relying upon trading recommendations and reviews contained herein.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 21 rated postsHaving majored in both Social Psychology and Economics, I went on to continue my education in post graduate. Later I worked as a team lead of a tech and fundamental analysis lab in the Applied System Analysis Research Institute. This helped me to acquire all necessary skills and experience to become a successful trader and analyst, as well as a portfolio manager in an investment company. I'm a pro in the financial field and the author of articles for various international media. I also hold the position of Chief Analyst at RoboMarkets.




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Stock Picks

Stock Pick: Alphabet Inc. (Parent Company of Google)

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Alphabet Incorporated (GOOGL) is a company that needs no introduction. The multinational conglomerate was established through the corporate restructuring of Google in October 2015. With the reorganization, Alphabet has created two segments: Google and Other Bets. Google focuses on internet products such as YouTube, Search Ads, Google Play and others while Other Bets specializes in selling internet and television services. The company had a net income of $12.662 billion in 2017.

Technical Analysis of Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL)

GOOGL has been correcting after posting an all-time high of $1,291.44 in July 2018. At that price level, the stock showed signs of bullish exhaustion. First, GOOGL had five attempts to get a weekly close above $1,254. However, each one failed because the volume was anemic. In addition, a long bearish divergence was spotted on the weekly RSI. As volume and momentum faded, price eventually followed.

Nevertheless, the pullback is giving us an opportunity to buy at a firm support level.

Technical analysis shows that GOOGL is headed to meet support of $995. This support level is strong as it used to be a firm monthly resistance back in May 2017. Bulls struggled to breach this area but they finally did it in October 2017. After that, the support was retested in April 2018. The retest led to the rally to the all-time high of $1,291.44.

With the S&P showing signs of weakness, we will just play the bounce to be on the safe side. Be sure to lock in profits once targets are reached.

Fundamental Analysis of Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL)

On top of our technical analysis, fundamental analysis also supports our short-term bullish view.

The parent-company Alphabet Inc. posted its third-quarter figures recently that beat expert estimates. Experts estimated an earnings per share (EPS) of $10.54 but the stock revealed quarterly earnings of $13.06 per share. With this development, GOOGL has gone above consensus EPS three times in the last four quarters.

In addition, its trailing twelve months price-to-earnings ratio is 39.59. While the stock may look overvalued, it is actually not far from its five-year average of 34.42. If you also consider that GOOGL has a five-year maximum P/E ratio of 66.23, then it is safe to say that the stock has some upside potential in the short-term.

The strategy is to buy on dips as close to $995 as possible. As long as the stock is above this level, it has the momentum to bounce to our targets of $1,112. Take that out and there’s a possibility of revisiting resistance of $1,254.

The timeline for the target is less than six months.

Weekly GOOGL Chart

Monthly GOOGL Chart

As of this writing, the Alphabet Incorporated stock (GOOGL) is trading at $1,055.94.

Summary of Strategy

Buy: On dips as close to $995 support as possible.

Target:  $1,112 and then $1,254.

Stop: Close below $976.

 

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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3.8 stars on average, based on 288 rated postsKiril is a CFA Charterholder and financial professional with 5+ years of experience in financial writing, analysis and product ownership. He has passed all three CFA exams on first attempt and has a bachelor's degree with a specialty in finance. Kiril’s current focus is on cryptocurrencies and ETFs, as he does his own crypto research and is the subject matter expert at ETFdb.com. He also has his personal website, InvestorAcademy.org where he teaches people about the basics of investing. His ultimate goal is to help people with limited knowledge of finance and investments to create investment portfolios easily, and in line with their unique circumstances.




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