Alibaba is 'just killing it' on mobile, says Vice Chairman Joe Tsai

Alibaba's Tsai: We are 'killing it' in mobile
Alibaba beats earnings, shrugging off slowing Chinese economy
Stocks to Watch: August 11, 2016

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is generating revenue growth not only due to its value proposition, but thanks to its performance among mobile users, Vice Chairman Joe Tsai said Thursday.

Mobile revenue from the company's China commerce retail business more than doubled to 17.51 billion yuan, while monthly mobile active users increased 39 percent.

"We're just killing it on mobile," he told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," noting that 75 percent of its gross merchandise volume, a key metric, comes from mobile.

"We've come a long way since two years ago when people were concerned about that issue, but today we have just reported that our monetization of mobile users has exceeded the monetization of the users on PC," he said.

The company's Taobao mobile app now has 427 million monthly active users, and the average user opens up the app seven times a day, Tsai said.

"That kind of [high frequency] engagement is helping us to monetize this user base," he said.

The company reported a better-than-expected 59 percent jump in quarterly revenue on Thursday, boosting shares more than 5 percent in morning trading, and defying a slowdown in the Chinese economy.

Alibaba's total revenue rose to 32.15 billion yuan, or $4.84 billion, in the quarter ended June 30 from 20.25 billion yuan a year earlier. Analysts on average had expected revenue of 30.17 billion yuan, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company said its gross merchandise volume (GMV) — the value of transactions carried out by third-party sellers on the company's platforms — rose 24.4 percent to 837 billion yuan. Net income attributable to shareholders fell to 7.14 billion yuan, or 2.94 yuan per share, from 30.82 billion yuan, or 11.92 yuan per share, in the year-earlier quarter.

"I think you really need to take a step back and not think about the Chinese economy in a cyclical, quarter-to-quarter way," Tsai said. "In any given quarter there could be ups and downs. What we're looking at is the long-term trend."

Alibaba said in June that it expected to nearly double its transaction volumes by 2020.

Despite a consumer base that has little debt and has seen wages increase, the Chinese economy has appeared volatile amid investor worries about metrics like GDP growth, as the economic focus shifts away from manufacturing and toward consumer spending.

Facing the prospect of a saturated online retail market in China, Alibaba has been looking to grow outside its home base. Alibaba is working with American companies such as Procter and Gamble, Apple and Starbucks, Tsai said.

"The overall sentiment is here that we want to reach out to American businesses, we want to make sure there is no animosity. We want to make sure that there's actually a lot of synergies and the two countries are symbiotic," Tsai said. "We really need look to the positive aspects of the future."

But the Chinese business environment also drawn criticism from U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has said that the U.S. is China's "whipping post," attacking China's membership in the World Trade Organization and accusing the Chinese government of "abusive" currency manipulation and unlawful intellectual property practices.

"I have tons of respect for Mr. Trump, but sitting here, I feel like China is the whipping post for the United States," Tsai said. "What's important to see is the overall context of U.S.-China relations … We [Alibaba] are the gateway to China. So right now, if you're an American manufacturer, you're an American brand, that wants to access the China market, you should come and talk to Alibaba."

One American company that's closely tied to Alibaba is Yahoo, which recently agreed to sell its core business to Verizon, leaving behind its sizeable stake in Alibaba. While some have speculated that Alibaba would buy that stake back, Tsai said doesn't know why anybody would want the large tax liability of acquiring the outstanding shares.

"I think it's up to the Yahoo board to figure out a tax figure out a tax efficient manner for us to engage. We have a business to run," Tsai said.

Meanwhile, Alibaba has increasingly built out its digital media arm on top of its core e-commerce business, acquiring Youku Tudou, known as "Chinese YouTube," late last year. The strategy had drawn speculation that Alibaba might acquire Netflixa rumor Alibaba put to rest last week.

While the company is "always interested in acquiring good content" that could appeal to Chinese consumers, Alibaba's main focus is investing in original content and user-generated content.

"Today, when you look at the Chinese consumer, beyond material goods —they need spiritual nourishment, if you will," Tsai said. "That's where entertainment comes in."

It has also been investing in a diverse array of other businesses, including cloud services provider Aliyun and driverless vehicles, hoping they can become an eventual source of growth. Paying customers in Alibaba's cloud computing business increased to 577,000 from 263,000 a year earlier, boosting revenue by 156 percent.

The company bought Singapore-based online retailer Lazada Group for about $1 billion in April, giving it a greater presence in Southeast Asia.

Alibaba also said in June it would in the future only release GMV figures on an annual basis. The change followed the disclosure that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was looking into the company's accounting practices.

Reuters contributed to this report.