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Alibaba Earnings Beat Wall Street Expectations for the Third Time Running

Alibaba Singles' Day Online Shopping EventAlibaba Singles' Day Online Shopping Event
David Beckham with his wife Victoria Beckham onstage with the hosts of the countdown gala for Alibaba's annual Singles' Day online shopping event in Shenzhen, China, on Nov. 10, 2016. Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Another Alibaba quarterly report, another positive surprise.

Alibaba said sales grew 54% year-over-year in the latest quarter to $7.7 billion, compared to $5.5 billion last year. It was the third straight quarter of beating Wall Street’s expectations for the Chinese e-commerce giant that has been plagued by the recent bad news of a lagging stock and a return to a U.S. government list of known counterfeit selling platforms.

The company’s bottom line also surprised Wall Street: a non-GAAP version of earnings per share was up 38% year-over-year and beat analyst estimates by double digits, even though profit margins dropped by four percentage points to 48% after losses in cloud computing and digital media and entertainment.

Alibaba said mobile shoppers accounted for 80% of its Chinese commerce revenues, up from 65% a couple years ago, as the Chinese prove more engaged with mobile shopping than those in any other country.

The quarter included results from Alibaba’s shopping bonanza Singles Day, when the value of the products it sold in the 24-hour period nearly hit $17.5 billion. “We are driving the age of ‘New Retail,’ which leverages big data and innovation to provide a seamless online and offline experience for nearly half a billion mobile monthly active users,” CEO Daniel Zhang said in a release.

Alibaba also said it was laying the foundation for international expansion after buying leading Southeast Asia e-commerce player Lazada last year. Although its presence in the U.S. is minimal, international revenues rose nearly 300% in the quarter because of the Asia expansion.

At the end of the last year, Alibaba’s stock was a laggard. It fell 10% over the last months of last year in a move that appeared to track the Chinese currency yuan’s fall against the U.S. dollar. Since Alibaba’s 2014 IPO, there have been five other times when the yuan fell precipitously against the U.S. dollar, and four of those times Alibaba’s stock sank.

That strikes MKM Partners analyst Rob Sanderson as strange, because he notes Alibaba has almost no exposure to currency fluctuations since less than 1% of its revenues are generated from Chinese small vendors selling to U.S. customers. He suggests that Alibaba’s stock may be being used as a bet against China by global macroeconomic funds. In each case of Alibaba’s shares sinking alongside the yuan, the stock has recovered over the next 2-3 months, he says.

And so it is this year after the latest earnings. Since hitting $87.80 at the end of the year, the stock has risen more than 12% through this morning. It was up 4.5% in pre-market trading, following the earnings report.

At the same time, Alibaba is still dealing with an S.E.C. probe into its accounting practices that was announced last year, as well as increased publicity over the fake goods appearing on its selling platforms. In December the U.S. Office of the Trade Representative added Taobao, Alibaba’s small seller platform, back onto a list of notorious counterfeit platforms that includes the likes of torrent site Pirate Bay. Alibaba was last on the list in 2012.

Inside China, you can search Taobao and still find thousands of illegitimate or suspect products from top brands. These results don’t appear in searches overseas because Alibaba has essentially walled off the Chinese Taobao from its marketplaces accessible worldwide.