Tanking Alibaba drags Hong Kong as markets rally fades

Tanking Alibaba drags Hong Kong as markets rally fades

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index led Asian losses as market-heavyweight Alibaba was hammered. (Photo: AFP)
Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index led Asian losses as market-heavyweight Alibaba was hammered. (Photo: AFP)

HONG KONG - Hong Kong led losses in Asian stock markets on Friday as Alibaba was hammered after saying it would cancel the planned spinoff of its cloud computing arm.

The sell-off came as an exciting week on global trading floors saw a tepid finish, with Wall Street drifting even as a forecast-beating jump in US jobless claims added to optimism the central bank would not hike interest rates again.

Market-heavyweight Alibaba collapsed more than 10% after its shock decision not to spin off its cloud computing arm because of the US-China chip war.

In one of its most wide-ranging restructurings, Alibaba said in March it planned to split the vast group into six distinct entities that would be able to separately pursue funding through public listings.

But on Thursday it called off the creation of its Cloud Intelligence arm in light of "the recent expansion of US restrictions on export of advanced computing chips".

Washington has cited national security grounds in moving to bar the shipment to China of powerful chips, including those from California-based Nvidia, which are crucial to the development of artificial intelligence.

The cloud spinoff was the crown jewel of Alibaba's restructuring, analysts said, adding that it brought into question traders' US$200 billion valuation of the group.

The firm said in an earnings release Thursday that the spinoff "may not achieve the intended effect of shareholder value enhancement".

"Accordingly, we have decided to not proceed with a full spin-off, and instead we will focus on developing a sustainable growth model for Cloud Intelligence Group under the fluid circumstances," it added.

The announcement surprised traders and its US-listed shares tanked more than nine percent, as it was one of the most high-profile victims of the China-US standoff.

It was the latest blow to the firm, which has in recent years been under the hard gaze of Beijing and hit by a series of restrictions on the domestic tech sector

"I was quite taken aback," said Kevin Net, at Tocqueville Finance. "My initial thoughts are that the whole corporate restructuring... could be at risk."

And Forsyth Barr Asia's Willer Chen simply said: "The market is scratching its head."

Other markets in Asia were also struggling following a soft lead from Wall Street, even after news that jobless claims had risen, indicating the labour market was softening.

The figures follow weaker-than-expected prints on consumer and producer price inflation, which fanned hopes that the Federal Reserve will not need to hike borrowing costs again.

That sparked a surge across markets and sent Treasury yields tumbling, with some traders even entertaining the idea of several cuts to borrowing costs next year.

"This unexpected increase may further reinforce the view that the economic situation may require or at least suggest a shift in the Federal Reserve policy is warranted," said Stephen Innes at SPI Asset Management.

"When taken with cool reads on consumer and producer prices, this week's claims update argues, at minimum, against additional Fed hikes."

However, traders remain on edge that the Fed has left the door open to a possible hike if data takes a turn for the worse, leading to warnings the economy could be in danger of slipping into recession.

Those worried about a downturn pointed to unemployment benefits being at their highest in two years, factory production dropping more than forecast and homebuilder sentiment at its weakest in 2023.

In Asian trade, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Mumbai, Bangkok and Wellington were in the red. However, Tokyo, Shanghai, Taipei, Manila and Jakarta edged up.

Crude prices inched higher but made little headway into Thursday's collapse of almost five percent that came on the back of demand worries, China's economic woes and rising US stockpiles.

West Texas Intermediate fell into a bear market having shed more than 20% from its recent peak, with pledges from Saudi Arabia and Russia to maintain output cuts unable to provide enough support.

- Key figures around 0700 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.5% at 33,585.20 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 2.0% at 17,469.62

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.1% at 3,054.37 (close)

Dollar/yen: DOWN at ¥150.63 from ¥150.76 on Thursday

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0854 from $1.0851

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2416 from $1.2411

Euro/pound: UP at 87.43 pence from 87.41 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.1% at $72.98 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.1% at $77.46 per barrel

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.1% at 34,945.47 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 1.0% at 7,410.97 (close)

-- Bloomberg News contributed to this story --

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