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商业 - 科技

会计谜团中的阿里巴巴究竟价值几何?

Jack T. Ciesielski 2014年09月09日

全球最大的电子商务公司阿里巴巴准备在美国上市,但其含混的财务数据使得投资者难以搞清它到底价值几何。

    在公众眼中,阿里巴巴集团(Alibaba Group Holding Ltd)总能抓住投资者的眼球,塑造符合当下投资者所推崇的资产组合。B2B商务?有。消费者线上购物?有。微型博客、社交媒体?有微博(Weibo)。在线支付服务?支付宝就是做这个的。移动互联网产品和服务?没问题,有UC浏览器。云计算、在线娱乐、职业足球队?有,有,都有。

    阿里巴巴看上去并不怎么像一家公司,倒像是一只专注于中国科技和电商领域的交易所上市基金。

    在即将成为美国公开上市公司的当口,接受彭博资讯(Bloomberg)调查的分析师对阿里巴巴的整体估值为1980亿美元。如果瑞士信贷(Credit Suisse)、德意志银行(Deutsche Bank)、高盛(Goldman Sachs)、摩根大通(J.P. Morgan)、摩根士丹利(Morgan Stanley)和花旗(Citi)等大牌投行的联合承销获得成功,阿里巴巴的估值将跻身IBM、丰田(Toyota)和Verizon等大公司之列,与Facebook比肩。相应的估值倍数很是惊人:是按美国通用会计准则计算的截至2014年(3月)的年度收益的53.2倍,息税折旧摊销前利润的40倍,以及营收的23.4倍。

    没人指望能在阿里巴巴的IPO中捞到便宜货,但这样的定价水平已经远远超出了即便是一家完美的公司所能获得的估值,而阿里巴巴并不完美。阿里巴巴之所以赴纽约证券交易所上市,是因为其首选的香港交易所不能接受企业内部人士对于董事会选举的绝对控制权。阿里巴巴收购媒体企业后出现的一些会计问题也已经引发外界质疑。阿里巴巴在这一系列令人眼花缭乱的收购中进行的尽职调查是否有效?国内持有/国外投资的结构会造成所有人和股东们在公司未来诉求上的矛盾。美国证券交易委员会(SEC)仍在研究阿里巴巴的IPO文件,其路演再推迟一周。

    令人疑惑的是,阿里巴巴的财务报告缺乏不同业务分类的细分信息,而接受彭博资讯调查的那些分析师们在计算估值时本该需要这些重要信息。阿里巴巴五花八门的业务不应获得相同的估值倍数,它们的增长率也不尽相同。现实而言,也不可能将阿里巴巴的一项业务与某一独立竞争对手相提并论。阿里巴巴的财务报表是按美国会计准则编制,要求公司报告首席运营决策者在考核绩效和进行资源分配决策时所需的业务细分数据。对于一家资产构成如此广泛的公司,合理的预期是它能至少划分为几项不同的业务。毕竟,互联网商务与社交媒体有多少相似性呢?

    For most of its time in the public view, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd has been able to capture the investor zeitgeist, shaping its asset portfolio to accommodate whatever investors think is sexy at the moment. Business-to-business commerce? Check. Online shopping for consumers? Check. Micro-blogging, social media? There’s Weibo for that. Online payment service? Got it covered with Alipay. Mobile Internet products and services? No problem, UC Web fits the bill. Cloud computing, online entertainment,professional soccer team? Check, check and check.

    Alibaba is not so much a company as it is essentially an exchange traded fund for exposure to Chinese technology and commerce.

    On the cusp of becoming publicly-traded in the United States, a Bloomberg poll of analysts puts the value of the entire firm at $198 billion. If Alibaba’s syndicate of heavyweights – Credit Suisse CS , Deutsche Bank DB 1.29% , Goldman Sachs GS 0.27% , J.P. Morgan JPM 0.02% , Morgan Stanley MS 0.41% , and Citi C 0.46% – pull it off, the company’s valuation would join the ranks of IBM, Toyota TM , Verizon VZ -0.32% , and most fittingly,Facebook FB 0.16% . That kind of valuation brings with it breathtaking multiples: 53.2 times (March) 2014 year end GAAP earnings, 40 times EBITDA, and 23.4 times revenues.

    Nobody would expect an Alibaba IPO to be a bargain, but those levels go far beyond pricing the company for perfection – and this is a company that’s not perfect. Alibaba will be trading on the New York Exchange because first choice Hong Kong exchange couldn’t stomach the insider controlover the election of directors.Accounting problems in its media acquisitions have raised questions about effectiveness of Alibaba’s due diligence efforts during its rambunctious, pell-mell acquisition binge. The inside-China ownership/outside-China capital structurecreates owners and shareholders with conflicting claims on the firm’s future. And the SEC is still studying Alibaba’s offering documents, pushing the roadshow off for another week.

    One curiosity concerning the financial statements is Alibaba’s lack of information for each segment of its business segment information – something that should be critical for those analysts polled by Bloomberg in coming up their valuations. Alibaba’s disparate businesses aren’t all worth the same multiples of relevant yardsticks, and they don’t all grow at the same rate – and it’s impossible to realistically peg one Alibaba business to that of a stand-alone competitor. The firm’s financial statements are prepared on a U.S. accounting basis, requiring that the firm report essential information about the segments used by the chief operating decision maker for reviewing performance and making decisions about resource allocation. In a firm with an asset palette as widely varied as this one, it’s justifiable to expect at least a couple of different segments. After all, how similar is online commerce to social media?

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