Wall St stays bullish on Alibaba

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Wall Street remains bullish about China's internet giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd amid a spate of stock selling by its principal stakeholders in the past six months.

Among the latest moves was the share sale plan adopted by Joe Tsai, which allows the firm's executive vice-chairman to sell up to 6.5 million shares of the company's stock through October.

The shares represent approximately 8 percent of Tsai's holdings, the company said in a filing to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission last month.

Tsai's affiliated entities, including the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation, Parufam Ltd and MFG II Ltd, have adopted the prearranged sale plan in accordance with Rule 10b5-1 of the SEC Act of 1934, the statement said.

Based on Alibaba's annual report in March, Tsai holds a 3.2 percent stake in the company.

Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma unlocked 5 percent of shares under his beneficiary ownership through a similar plan in September, allowing for the sale of up to 9.9 million shares over a 12-month period commencing in September 2016.

These plans have been put in place to meet philanthropic commitments and for ordinary wealth planning purposes, the company told China Daily on Monday.

In 2014, the duo established a charitable trust that is designed to be funded by share options they own, representing around 2 percent of the shares in the company, Alibaba said.

"Rule 10b5-1 allows major holders to sell a predetermined number of shares at a predetermined time, as long as the sale isn't set to bring about major effects to the company. Many corporate executives use such plan to avoid accusations of insider trading," said Ling Xiao, partner of Hui Ye Law Firm specializing in overseas investment and financing.

The e-commerce giant's largest shareholder Softbank Group Corp said it would sell $7.9 billion of its shares in June, marking the first such sale since the Japanese company began investing in Alibaba in 2000. Its holding in Alibaba were reduced to around 28 percent, from 32.4 percent as of June 2016.

But a potential snowball effect shorting Alibaba is unlikely to occur. In November, rating agency Fitch Ratings Inc affirmed Alibaba at A+ with a stable outlook, and Morgan Stanley gave a "Buy" rating last month and a $130 price target, more than 40 percent up from its current price.

"We believe that Alibaba is in the early stages of unlocking the value from what we view as its most valuable asset-a rich database that continues to accumulate from its well-controlled and extensive closed-loop ecosystem, through advances in data technology," Morgan Stanley's Grace Chen and her team said in a report in December.

Selloffs don't necessarily reflect a shift in confidence among major investors, according to an analyst tracking Alibaba stocks at an investment bank who wished to remain anonymous. The institution also maintains a buy rating and had raised its target price to more than $130.

"In the case of Softbank Group Corp, the selloff is targeted at trimming debts and saving up to acquire the semiconductor and software design company ARM Holdings Plc," said the analyst.

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