Are Alibaba Analysts Spooked Into Keeping Too Much Upside?

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Sometimes what was thought to be a good idea at the time just feels rotten after the fact. Blowing a few thousand dollars on a single bet in Vegas feels like that, even if you knew ahead of time that the odds are always against you. Or maybe this is getting suckered into believing that China’s strong growth was endless. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (NYSE: BABA) was supposed to be the next best thing since sliced bread for investors. After all, it was touted as ‘the Amazon from China.’

The problem is that Alibaba’s earnings report was less than spectacular, and Alibaba has a history of mixed earnings reactions now. Also, the company faced immediate criticism for announcing a $4 billion share buyback less than a year after coming public. Then there was a less than exciting CEO media appearance after earnings. All in all, the less robust report took shares to a post-IPO low before they recovered.

24/7 Wall St. tracks many analyst calls each day. The Alibaba analysts have surprisingly maintained their Buy or Outperform ratings here. Still, they probably don’t want to have to answer for creating larger upgrades and big upside targets when Alibaba was nearing $100 and went over it only to cut their ratings at post-IPO lows in the low $70’s. This stock was also sliding handily ahead of the earnings report. Even in February, we asked if Alibaba had tricked analysts after seeing their price target cuts then. Last November, analysts were stepping all over each other for higher price targets.

The trend that has been seen in the 36 hours after Alibaba’s report was almost universal price target cuts. The actual number of formal downgrades was low, but some of these upside analyst price targets feel artificially high here when you consider that the sentiment on Alibaba has soured so much.

Wells Fargo maintained its Outperform rating, but the firm lowered its valuation range down to $95.00 to $97.00 from $108.00 to $111.00. The gross merchandise value growth of 34% was a disappointment and was below the street estimate of 38%. Wells Fargo sees risks as low mobile monetization rates, more U.S. and Chinese competition, risks in reaching higher growth on top of already high penetration levels in China, and an overall country risk.

BofA Merrill Lynch maintained its Buy rating, but its price objective was cut to $100 from $107 in its call. While it raised its earnings estimates, the firm noted — we think the positive impact will be largely offset by the mix shift to mobile in the coming two years, during which PC will still have higher monetization rates but represent a decreasing portion of business.

S&P Capital IQ also maintained its Strong Buy rating, but it lowered its 12-month target to $97 from $116 based on a revised peer analysis. This group said that it lowered 2016 and 2016 EPS targets, noting that the online lottery business suspension and the transfer of the loan business to an affiliate in February – even if there is a compelling pairing of growth and value.

Wedbush Securities was far more cautious, actually downgrading its formal coverage rating to Neutral from Outperform on Wednesday – and slashing the price target down to $80 from $115.

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24/7 Wall St. has created a montage of all the analyst reports and summaries it has seen on Alibaba to document