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Alibaba's growth rate cools off ahead of expected IPO

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's scorching growth may be cooling off - but just ever so slightly.

The privately held Chinese online marketplace posted 51 percent revenue growth during the July-September quarter compared with a year prior, the lowest rate in three quarters, while margins shrank for the second consecutive period. But it swung from a loss one year ago to $792 million in net income ahead of what is billed as the biggest initial public offering since Facebook Inc's 2012 float.

The figures were disclosed Tuesday by Yahoo Inc, which holds a 24 percent stake in the Chinese company and reports Alibaba's results one quarter in arrears as part of its own financial disclosures.

Alibaba had set a breakneck pace for itself during the first two quarters of 2013, logging top-line growth of 71 percent and 61 percent, respectively.

Alibaba reported revenue of $1.78 billion during the September quarter, up from $1.18 billion.

Aside from decelerating revenue growth, Alibaba's margins also shrank from 74 percent to 70 percent, according to Yahoo.

But that could suggest the company is priming itself for a public market debut rather than any weakness in its business, said B. Riley analyst Sameet Sinha.

"It's a function of them making the investments before the IPO," Sinha said. "I'm sure the bankers are telling them not to do the margin acceleration before the IPO, show it after the IPO. That's what gets the stock moving."

Expectations have been building for months around Hangzhou, China-based Alibaba, with bankers predicting an IPO that could raise up to $15 billion and value the company at more than $100 billion - sums that have drawn comparisons to the frenzied Facebook offering in 2012.

Shares of Yahoo, which has struggled to revive its own core business, closed at $38.22, up 4.3 percent, but then fell to $36.80 in extended trade following the release of Alibaba's revenue.

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