Profits growth at Alibaba was stunted by a $2.78 billion fine for monopoly practices. But the Chinese e-commerce and entertainment giant nevertheless managed to achieve net income of $22.9 billion in its fiscal year to March 2021.
Aside from the fine, the company’s numbers reflect the strong post-COVID recovery of the Chinese economy and the economy’s shift to digital services.
Year-on-year revenue hit $717 billion ($109 billion), compared with RMB509 billion in the year to March 2020, an increase of 41%, or 32% if the impact of acquisitions is excluded. And for the current year it is forecasting a further 30% revenue expansion to RMB930 billion.
For the first time, the number of active users of the Alibaba ecosystem exceeded 1 billion, an increase of 84 million, with some 90% of those in China.
The digital entertainment and media segment managed a 7% increase in revenue from RMB29.1 billion to RMB31.2 billion, helped in particular by better sales in online games. Net losses in the sector were cut by a third, from RMB15.4 billion to RMB10.3 billion.
The segment includes businesses ranging from the Taopiaopiao cinema ticketing firm to generalist streaming service Youku. Alibaba did not reveal details of paying subscribers at Youku, but said that its daily average subscriber numbers grew by 35% year on year, adding that the company’s losses were reduced.
The fine was announced in April 2021, after the end of the financial year. But it appears to have been backdated and included in the April 2020 to March 2021 figures.
The penalty was imposed by the State Administration for Market Regulation which ruled that the company had used its “dominant market position to restrict business counterparties through exclusive arrangements without justifiable cause.” Alibaba, which said that it had “sincerely accepted” the penalty, was told that it had to implement a comprehensive program of rectification, and to fulfil its responsibility as a platform operator.
In a 90-minute conference call with financial analysts following the results announcement, management made no reference to regulatory matters other than brief prepared remarks.
Ongoing uncertainty about increasing regulation in other areas of the digital economy have dragged down the shares of Alibaba and other Chinese tech companies.
Ahead of the results, Alibaba shares dropped 3% in Thursday trading in Hong. They closed the day at HK$213.20, down 31% from their peak of HK$309 in October 2020 when Beijing first appeared to turn against the tech sector.