PDD passes Alibaba in market value

The company formerly known as Pinduoduo passed Alibaba in terms of market value after reporting strong third-quarter growth fueled by its international Temu platform

Key Takeaways:

  • PDD’s Temu international platform has grown rapidly since its launch in September 2022, with one analyst estimating it contributed 28% of the company’s third-quarter revenue
  • The discount-focused e-commerce company has an edge over Alibaba due to its closer ties with suppliers, giving it more control over sourcing, pricing and inventory


By Hugh Chen

After years of dominance by the duo of Alibaba (BABA.US; 9988.HK) and JD.com (JD.US; 9618.HK), China suddenly has a new top kid on its e-commerce block.

PDD Holdings Inc. (PDD.US) has emerged as the new favorite in that fiercely competitive landscape, after surpassing a slumping Alibaba in terms of valuation last week. As of Thursday’s market close, PDD was the leader with a value of $186 billion, just ahead of Alibaba’s $185 billion and well in front of JD.com’s $42 billion. The watershed moment capped years of stellar performance by PDD, better known in China as Pinduoduo.

The 8-year-old upstart’s passing of veteran Alibaba came after PDD reported turbo-charged third-quarter earnings that included a revenue surge of over 90%, and 45% profit growth.

PDD’s rapid rise owes to its laser focus on bargains and an innovative group-buying model that resonates with price-conscious consumers, especially in China’s less affluent smaller cities. While multiple factors underlie its success, PDD’s red-hot international expansion is the main driver behind its latest surge. That contrasts even more strongly with Alibaba’s more checkered record of achieving success outside China.

Before examining PDD’s overseas growth in more detail, we should note that Alibaba’s fall from grace owes in no small part to China’s crackdown on the entire internet sector – making PDD’s story even more remarkable. A 2020 speech by Alibaba founder Jack Ma criticizing Chinese regulators is generally seen as the starting point for a crackdown on the company, which later spread to other major internet players, for anti-competitive practices.

Alibaba has largely limped along since then, though it excited investors with its March announcement that it would break itself up into six component parts, a move many said was made in part to address anti-monopoly concerns. But even that drive ran into trouble last month when Alibaba said it no longer planned to spin off its cloud business due to changes in the market.

While Alibaba has foundered, PDD has done just the opposite, in no small part by avoiding controversy with its strong focus on its core e-commerce business. The company’s third-quarter revenue totaled 68.8 billion yuan ($9.7 billion), about a third of Alibaba’s 224.8 billion yuan. But while the Alibaba figure grew by a modest 9% year-on-year, Pinduoduo’s nearly doubled with a 94% rise.

PDD’s shares surged 17% in the trading day of the announcement, and have held onto the gains since then, propelling it past Alibaba in terms of market value. That jump has given PDD a price-to-sales (P/S) ratio of 7.48, significantly higher than Alibaba’s 1.45. In terms of price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, PDD also commands a ratio of 32, triple the 10 for Alibaba, according to Yahoo Finance.

International success

The investor optimism that lifted PDD past Alibaba is likely tied to the success of Temu, its international business. Temu has expanded swiftly since its launch in September last year, garnering over 52 million monthly active users in the U.S. alone, according to mobile app performance tracker Sensor Tower. The service is now available in 48 countries worldwide.

While PDD did not provide specific financial details for Temu in its latest earnings report, Goldman Sachs estimated the service accounted for approximately 28% of the company’s revenue in its latest quarter. The international success contrasts with Alibaba, whose older foreign operations are still relatively small as a percentage of its overall business.

PDD’s overseas success uses a page taken directly from its domestic playbook targeting price-conscious customers. That focus resonates strongly in the current environment as global shoppers grapple with high prices and inflation. And, of course, everyone always loves a good bargain.

Temu offers shoppers extremely low prices for a variety of products, such as $4 for earphones and $15 for hoodies. Those goods are shipped from China, drawing on PDD’s extensive merchant network established over its brief lifetime. The company’s tight control over this network, which helps it cut prices to the bone, gives it an edge over Alibaba.

Alibaba operates more like a marketplace, providing support to its merchants but largely letting them run their own shops. By comparison, Pinduoduo has invested heavily in direct relationships with its suppliers, giving it more control over sourcing, pricing, and inventory.

Pinduoduo appears to be employing the same strategy abroad that fueled its early growth in China – aggressively using marketing and discounts to drive expansion, prioritizing top-line growth over short-term profits. PDD was loss-making for years before becoming profitable in 2021.

Temu’s aggressive marketing approach, which includes big spending in high-profile outlets like Super Bowl commercials, means it’s likely that PDD’s international business is still unprofitable and is dragging down the company’s overall margins. However, the company can afford to subsidize its international expansion with its strong and profitable business in China.

That doesn’t mean PDD won’t face some challenges in its international expansion. As its popularity grows in the U.S., it’s already attracting unwanted political scrutiny due to tensions between China and the U.S., especially over data security concerns. In April, a U.S. Congressional commission report outlined concerns over Chinese fast fashion platforms like Temu in areas like trade practices, labor, safety and IP protections.

PDD also faces intensifying competition in the fast fashion e-commerce space from the likes of Shein, its Chinese competitor that similarly focuses on ultra-low-cost products and gained early traction in the U.S. market.

The two companies previously sued each other over the past year on issues such as disparaging remarks and allegations of monopolistic practices. They settled their suits in October, but the disputes still illustrate the competitive pressures PDD faces as it seeks to expand outside its home market. Most recently, even Amazon (AMZN.US) appeared to be joining the fray by offering unusually low fee rates for its merchants selling clothing priced below $20 – a move that looks directly aimed at both Shein and Temu.

At the end of the day, PDD’s continued success will rely on growing its business internationally as its China growth slows. This gives it a clear lead over Alibaba, though by no means assures its success as PDD faces intensifying competition on the global stage from not only established companies in other markets but also Chinese rivals.

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