Alibaba Being Circled by Short Sellers Amidst Probe by SEC
Alibaba Group Holding, which disclosed it was being investigated for the accounting practices it uses, has emerged a favorite target of the stock market’s short-selling community in the short time it has been public.
Short-sellers of note, such as Jim Chanos and John Hempton have raised red flags about the accounting practices at the e-commerce giant since 2015.
Hempton said in an email that Alibaba, which became a public company in September of 2014, is a legitimate company but has questionable accounts. He said that valuing it from using the accounts was tricky.
Hempton added that he believed the share eventually will drop a large amount and will receive a takeover bid. Another company taking over the business would require a large amount of capital as the company currently has a worth of more than $190 billion.
There have been questions about the growth rate of Alibaba and the relations it has with affiliated businesses, which have dogged the company now for many years.
The ongoing investigation underscores how far the company must go to improve its transparency, while a spree continues of acquisitions that create uncertainty over earnings.
Alibaba would not comment beyond the statement it released this week that it was fully cooperating with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, that the federal agency said it felt federal laws were violated and the annual report released this week was just the type of information requested by regulators.
The investigation by the SEC said Alibaba was launched earlier in 2016 and focused on accounting practices at Cainiao Network its logistics firm, which is owned 47% by Alibaba.
Alibaba shares were up on Thursday after dropping upon the news on Wednesday. The stock closed 3.65% higher after dropping close to 7% during the day on Wednesday. Some analysts on Wall Street downplayed the SEC inquiry.
Short interest in the Chinese e-commerce giant’s shares doubled during the second six months of 2015, shooting from less than 50 million shares during June to more than 98 million during the first few days of January 2016.
The total has dropped to approximately 77.5 million shares, which represents over 10% of the free float of Alibaba, as of the last data that is released bi-monthly from the NYSE.
Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, who raised some concern about Alibaba as well as Chinese IPOs during 2014, applauded the SEC investigations, saying the financial markets in China remain very opaque and that serious questions remain as to whether investors are being given basic protections.