SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(B) OR 12(G) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(D) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(D) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(D) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
Date of event requiring this shell company report……………
For the transition period from to
Commission file number
(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)
(Jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)
(Address of principal executive offices)
(Name, Telephone, E-mail and/or Facsimile number and Address of Company Contact Person)
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each class
Name of each exchange on which registered
eight Ordinary Shares
The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act: None
Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the issuer’s classes of capital or common stock as of the close of the period covered by the annual report:
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If this report is an annual or transition report, indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
☐ Yes ☒
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant: (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Accelerated filer ☐
Non-accelerated filer ☐
Emerging growth company
If an emerging growth company that prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards† provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act ☐
† The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:
International Financial Reporting Standards as issued
If “Other” has been checked in response to the previous question, indicate by check mark which financial statement item the registrant has elected to follow.
☐ Item 17 ☐ Item 18
If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934).
(APPLICABLE ONLY TO ISSUERS INVOLVED IN BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS DURING THE PAST FIVE YEARS)
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed all documents and reports required to be filed by Sections 12, 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 subsequent to the distribution of securities under a plan confirmed by a court.
☐ Yes ☐ No
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LETTER FROM OUR CHAIRMAN AND CEO TO SHAREHOLDERS
Every year, I look forward to this opportunity to share my thoughts with you. The ever-changing environment globally and in China has forced us to address many “questions of our times” over the past year. I know Alibaba’s decisions and development in the future is on top of mind for everyone, and I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for your continued support and confidence in Alibaba.
Over the past year, we were deeply impacted by the tremendous uncertainties brought about by the capricious nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new expectations of the Internet sector in China, and high frequency of international geopolitical conflicts. This may be the year in which changes in the external environment has been most severe in decades. In response to these big and impactful changes, our guiding principle has been “be confident, be flexible and be ourselves.”
“Be confident” means being confident in the development of the China economy, being confident in the future of the digital economy, and being confident in people’s pursuit of a better life. As long as these macro trends are clear and definite, then we are confident that Alibaba has a solid foundation for its existence and growth, and that we can make a meaningful contribution to society.
“Be flexible” means actively adapting to the changes in the environment by examining Alibaba objectively through the lens of socioeconomic developments and truly understanding the expectations that society has of Alibaba. We need to find Alibaba’s path within the context of the major trends of society’s development and macro-economic cycle.
“Be ourselves” means focusing on our core strategy and continually raising the bar on our capability to create value for customers and society. We need to improve our relationship and dialogue with society, and address uncertainty in the external environment with the certainty that we create through our own efforts.
Clarification and progress of our three major strategies
Despite the challenges, Alibaba delivered a stable and rewarding year. In early 2022, we have further clarified our commitment to the three major strategies - consumption, cloud computing, and globalization – as the immovable pillars guiding Alibaba’s future.
During this past fiscal year, we achieved our stated goal of serving more than 1 billion annual active consumers in China. This is a milestone in the development of Alibaba. This means that our platform not only has the most expansive and most valuable consumer group in China, but we have also gradually built a comprehensive matrix of retail formats that offer distinctive value propositions. Over the past fiscal year, there were more than 124 million consumers on Taobao and Tmall with annual ARPU exceeding RMB10,000 with 98% continuing to be active year-over-year. And among the over 300 million annual active consumers on Taobao Deal, 20% had never shopped on Taobao or Tmall previously. Among Taocaicai’s annual active consumers this fiscal year, more than 50% are purchasing fresh groceries on the Alibaba platform for the first time. We believe that these two businesses will make greater contributions in the future to our overall retail matrix. We remain more committed than ever to creating value for customers, focusing on the user experience, and generating diversified growth through a matrix design and serving a variety of needs of different cohorts in differentiated retail scenarios with the goal of increasing total wallet share of our 1 billion annual active consumers.
At the same time, following many years of development, we have gradually established a distributed logistics network that covers delivery demands for local (near), intermediate, and far distances. Our comprehensive logistics network has been invaluable during special situations like COVID: from the partnership-driven national express delivery established in the early years to the gradual expansion into regional and local delivery; from far distance delivery to local (near) distance appointment-based delivery, same-day delivery and next-day delivery; and to the intra-city logistics and real-time logistics fulfilment network that has been built and scaled in recent years. Alongside the continued development of its logistics infrastructure, Cainiao has also been continuously strengthening its customer service capabilities. This fiscal year, 69% of Cainiao’s total revenue came from external customers, and the daily cross-border and overseas packages processed by Cainiao have exceeded 4.5 million.
We are in the process of moving deeper into the industrial Internet sector from the consumer Internet sector, and are working hard to enhance their integration. This past year, Alibaba Cloud maintained its leading position in the Chinese market and realized full-year profitability for the first time since Alibaba Cloud’s establishment 13 years ago. Since the first day our cloud computing was established, we have believed in its massive and universal value proposition, so we have been incredibly determined to focus our technology strategy around cloud computing. Today, cloud computing has become essential to the increasing adoption of the industrial Internet and as society is becoming smart and digitalized. By 2025, the size of China’s cloud computing market is expected to reach RMB1 trillion, which is three times the size of the current market and speaks to the massive market potential. To capture this historical opportunity where every sector and industry is going digital, we need to continue to build our technology and product capabilities, and fully integrate the basic infrastructure of cloud computing with big data and artificial intelligence. We need to go deep into every industry and offer unique solutions. DingTalk’s development has allowed us to have an even more unique entry point to the industrial Internet. Through integrated DingTalk and Cloud strategy, we can help more enterprises advance from the digitization of organizations and offices towards broader business and operations digitization. This will result in widespread use of cloud computing and big data analytics in various scenarios and needs. Over the years, we have been unwavering in our commitment to growing together with our customers, there are more than 4 million paying customers, which include more than 60% of the A-share listed companies in China. We will continue to plant seeds in sunrise industries and customers that represent the future, and together drive the high-quality and sustainable development of our cloud computing business.
The direction of our globalization is very clear. We are focused on exploring consumption sector opportunities and cloud computing. Another way to understand our three business strategies is “two verticals and one horizontal.” Today, Alibaba has multiple consumer-facing brands in many regions and countries around the world, which include AliExpress, Lazada, Trendyol, and Daraz. In overseas markets, we have more than 300 million annual active consumers. For cloud computing, Alibaba is offering services in 27 regions worldwide. We believe that we must compete in the international market in order to demonstrate Alibaba’s excellence in the field of cloud computing. Alibaba Group is the world’s third largest and Asia Pacific’s largest infrastructure-as-a-service provider by revenue in 2021 in U.S. dollars, according to Gartner’s April 2022 report.(1) In the 2021 Gartner Solution Scorecard for integrated IaaS and PaaS, Alibaba Cloud achieved a score of 81 out of 100. We believe Alibaba Cloud was ranked first in the world and achieved the highest scores in the four core evaluations of computing, storage, network, and security, when compared with other global cloud service providers.
Proactively Seek Change, Create the Future
There is a saying that people often overestimate the change in one year and underestimate the change over five or ten years. I believe that, in addition to the changes in our businesses, the series of changes we made on our organization and culture over the past year will together be the opening act of Alibaba’s future development. We must evolve faster than the times, and be adamant in improving ourselves. We must be faster in translating consensus into action. Even if these changes need longer time frame to realize, we believe that we are on the correct path.
We boldly experimented with a new management responsibility system under our multi-governance structure. Since its establishment 23 years ago, Alibaba has evolved into an enterprise company driven by multiple business engines. Our various businesses are in different industries, in different life cycles and face different opportunities and challenges. This means that they each need more independent business strategy and management understanding, and can rapidly make appropriate judgement and decisions in response to shifting market demands. We also must be conscious of the unpredictable nature of a market in a volatile environment. We must make the organization more agile and flexible, and allow every unit in the organization to learn quickly and act proactively, thereby ensuring Alibaba’s future is propelled forward by the different business engines collectively.
(1) Source: Gartner, Market Share: IT Services, 2021, Neha Sethi et al., April 8, 2022 (Asia Pacific refers to Mature Asia/Pacific, Greater China, Emerging Asia/Pacific and Japan, and market share refers to that of infrastructure-as-a-service)
We also laid out clear management principles that will guide our development – “capacity building, value creation.” One of Alibaba’s core values is customer first, and in order to realize this goal of customer first, we must be able to continually create new value for our customers. This is a new demand on our capabilities. In a highly competitive market, it is like sailing against the current. If you don’t advance, you are retreating. We believe that taking a long-term approach without capability accumulation is essentially empty promises, and businesses that cannot create value cannot grow in a healthy and sustainable fashion. If the COVID-19 pandemic was a touchstone, it made us realize that our accumulated capabilities and efforts can contribute some color to people’s lives and provide some support to the normal operations of cities, businesses and schools. There are many real, concrete yet subtle threads of connection between us, communities, micro businesses and the self-employed. It allows us to examine and improve our capabilities continually. Only through leveraging our abilities to do more can we live up to the expectations of society. To better realize our desire for “capacity building and value creation,” we have also implemented OKRs widely across the company. This pushes us towards sharing “the same desires from top to bottom and alignment between left and right” and evolving from purely quantitative-driven to more value-driven.
ESG serves as our strategic pillar for sustainable, high quality development
During the Wuzhen Internet Conference last year, I formally announced ESG and Common Prosperity as the two key strategies of Alibaba’s social responsibility. In December 2021, we published our Carbon Neutrality Action Report; this is an important milestone in Alibaba’s development. We aim to achieve carbon neutrality in our own operations by 2030; reduce carbon emission intensity by 50% through collaboration with upstream and downstream partners on our value chain by 2030; take the lead in achieving carbon neutrality in our cloud computing, and become a green cloud; leverage the power of our platform to facilitate a reduction of 1.5 gigatons of carbon emissions in 15 years. These are ambitious goals and also a very serious commitment. At the same time, we hope these goals will mobilize us to proactively seek change and drive innovation or even opportunities for disruption of existing businesses in our pursuit of sustainable development. We believe sustainability goals will profoundly transform all industries, so we must look even sooner and further into the future.
Social responsibility is deeply embedded into Alibaba DNA. As a platform we innately facilitate social interactions, and the extensive cooperation amongst the many types of participants on our platform has not only brought about innovation and the emergence of new types of businesses, it has also created massive employment opportunities. Despite the tremendous uncertainty brought about by the pandemic and other reasons, we expect to have over 5,800 fresh college graduates joining Alibaba this year.(1) In 2021, alongside China’s historic achievement of comprehensive poverty alleviation, we upgraded the Alibaba Poverty Alleviation Fund into a Rural Revitalization Fund. We supported rural revitalization through the three dimensions of industrial revitalization, talent revitalization and technology revitalization. We also put forth ten key initiatives in the latter half of last year. Through the mobilization of multiple businesses and long-term planning, we aim to implement our initiatives steadily and step-by-step taking into consideration both commercial value and social value. We will start in Zhejiang, focusing on technological innovation, economic development, job creation and care for vulnerable populations. Whether it is the flood in Henan or the pandemic in Shanghai, we have done everything we can to contribute to support the needs of people’s lives through the commercial infrastructure and capabilities that we have accumulated over the years.
Over the past year, we have also worked to improve our corporate governance. We are committed to providing our employees with a nurturing work environment that supports personal growth and has a lot of vitality. More and more employees are enjoying new company benefits such as family care leave, flexible working arrangements, and interest-free home loans with lower thresholds. We believe that our employees are the drivers of the company’s growth and we always aim to do more for our employees.
All in all, Alibaba is committed to a path of sustainable and high-quality development. You will soon see the ESG Annual Report that we are about to publish, where we will share much more about our progress in environmental protection, social responsibility and corporate governance.
Looking back on the past 23 years, Alibaba has been at the forefront of the development of an era. Alibaba has been creating and capturing opportunities presented by the digital economy era and China’s rapid growth. Alibaba’s past is intimately related to the development of China, and Alibaba’s future path will continue to be highly aligned with China’s economic growth and social development - whether it is technological innovation, creating a better life, pursuit of high-quality development, or enhancing international competitiveness. We hope that more inventions and creations will continue to be born at Alibaba that can serve the interests of our collective society.
(1) Source: According to the number of offer letters that Alibaba Group’s core businesses released
The world will keep changing, but value is eternal. The more uncertain the era, the more we need to proactively seek valuable change. This is my 15th year in the company, and together with everyone, I hope we continue to charter Alibaba through even more positive changes in the future.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
CONVENTIONS THAT APPLY TO THIS ANNUAL REPORT ON FORM 20-F
Unless the context otherwise requires, references in this annual report on Form 20-F to:
|●||“2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law” are to the PRC Foreign Investment Law, promulgated by the National People’s Congress on March 15, 2019, which became effective on January 1, 2020;|
|●||“ADSs” are to the American depositary shares, each of which represents eight Shares;|
|●||“AI” are to artificial intelligence;|
|●||“Alibaba,” “Alibaba Group,” “company,” “our company,” “we,” “our” or “us” are to Alibaba Group Holding Limited, a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands with limited liability on June 28, 1999 and, where the context requires, its consolidated subsidiaries and its affiliated consolidated entities, including its variable interest entities and their subsidiaries, from time to time;|
|●||“Alibaba Health” are to Alibaba Health Information Technology Limited, a company incorporated in Bermuda on March 11, 1998, the shares of which are listed on the Main Board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (Stock Code: 0241), and, except where the context otherwise requires, its consolidated subsidiaries;|
|●||“Alibaba Pictures” are to Alibaba Pictures Group Limited, a company incorporated in Bermuda with limited liability on January 6, 1994, the shares of which are listed on the Main Board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (Stock Code: 1060) and, except where the context otherwise requires, its consolidated subsidiaries;|
|●||“Alipay” are to Alipay.com Co., Ltd., a company incorporated under the laws of the PRC on December 8, 2004, with which we have a long-term contractual relationship and which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ant Group or, where the context requires, its predecessor entities;|
|●||“Altaba” are to Altaba Inc. (formerly known as Yahoo! Inc.) and where the context requires, its consolidated subsidiaries; Altaba filed a certificate of dissolution with the Secretary of State of the State of Delaware, which became effective on October 4, 2019;|
|●||“Analysys” are to Analysys, a research institution;|
|●||“annual active consumers” are to user accounts that placed one or more confirmed orders through the relevant platform during the previous twelve months, regardless of whether or not the buyer and seller settle the transaction;|
|●||“Ant Group” are to Ant Group Co., Ltd. (formerly known as Ant Small and Micro Financial Services Group Co., Ltd.), a company organized under the laws of the PRC on October 19, 2000 and, as context requires, its consolidated subsidiaries;|
|●||“Articles” or “Articles of Association” are to our Articles of Association (as amended and restated from time to time), adopted on September 2, 2014;|
|●||“board” or “board of directors” are to our board of directors, unless otherwise stated;|
|●||“business day” are to any day (other than a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday) on which banks in relevant jurisdictions are generally open for business;|
|●||“Cainiao Network” are to Cainiao Smart Logistics Network Limited, a company incorporated on May 20, 2015 under the laws of the Cayman Islands and our consolidated subsidiary, together with its subsidiaries;|
|●||“CCASS” are to the Central Clearing and Settlement System established and operated by Hong Kong Securities Clearing Company Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong Exchange and Clearing Limited;|
|●||“China” and the “PRC” are to the People’s Republic of China;|
|●||“Companies (WUMP) Ordinance” are to the Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Chapter 32 of the Laws of Hong Kong), as amended or supplemented from time to time;|
|●||“CRM” are to customer relationship management;|
|●||“CSRC” are to the China Securities Regulatory Commission of the PRC;|
|●||“Deposit Agreement” are to the deposit agreement, dated as of September 24, 2014, as amended, among us, Citibank, N.A. and our ADS holders and beneficial owners from time to time;|
|●||“director(s)” are to member(s) of our board, unless otherwise stated;|
|●||“DTC” are to The Depository Trust Company, the central book-entry clearing and settlement system for equity securities in the United States and the clearance system for our ADSs;|
|●||“Ele.me” are to Rajax Holding, a company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands on June 8, 2011 and our consolidated subsidiary, and, except where the context otherwise requires, its consolidated subsidiaries and its affiliated consolidated entities, including its variable interest entities and their subsidiaries; where the context requires, also refers to our on-demand delivery and local services platform under the Ele.me brand;|
|●||“Enhanced VIE Structure” are to our enhanced structure for variable interest entities as described in “Item 4. Information on the Company — C. Organizational Structure”;|
|●||“ERP” are to enterprise resource planning;|
|●||“EU” are to the European Union;|
|●||“FMCG” are to fast-moving consumer goods;|
|●||“foreign private issuer” are to such term as defined in Rule 3b-4 under the U.S. Exchange Act;|
|●||“Gartner” are to Gartner, Inc.; the Gartner content described herein (the “Gartner Content”) represent(s) research opinion or viewpoints published, as part of a syndicated subscription service, by Gartner, Inc. (“Gartner”), and are not representations of fact; Gartner Content speaks as of its original publication date (and not as of the date of this annual report), and the opinions expressed in the Gartner Content are subject to change without notice. GARTNER and Magic Quadrant are registered trademarks of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose;|
|●||“GDP” are to gross domestic product;|
|●||“GDPR” are to the EU General Data Protection Regulation;|
|●||“GMV” are to the value of confirmed orders of products and services on our marketplaces, regardless of how, or whether, the buyer and seller settle the transaction; GMV in reference to our total GMV transacted in the Alibaba Ecosystem includes GMV transacted through our platforms by consumers with accounts on our platforms; our calculation of GMV includes shipping charges paid by buyers to sellers; as a prudential matter aimed at eliminating any influence on our GMV of potentially fraudulent transactions, we exclude from our calculation of GMV transactions in certain product categories over certain amounts and transactions by buyers in certain product categories over a certain amount per day;|
|●||“HK$” or “Hong Kong dollars” are to Hong Kong dollars, the lawful currency of Hong Kong;|
|●||“Hong Kong” or “HK” or “Hong Kong S.A.R.” are to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC;|
|●||“Hong Kong Listing Rules” are to the Rules Governing the Listing of Securities on The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited, as amended or supplemented from time to time;|
|●||“Hong Kong Share Registrar” are to Computershare Hong Kong Investor Services Limited;|
|●||“Hong Kong Stock Exchange” are to The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited;|
|●||“IaaS” are to infrastructure-as-a-service;|
|●||“ICP(s)” are to Internet content provider(s);|
|●||“IDC” are to International Data Corporation, a research institution;|
|●||“Intime” are to Intime Retail (Group) Company Limited, a company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands on November 8, 2006 and our consolidated subsidiary and, except where the context otherwise requires, its consolidated subsidiaries;|
|●||“IoT” are to Internet of things;|
|●||“IT” are to information technology;|
|●||“Junao” are to Hangzhou Junao Equity Investment Partnership (Limited Partnership), a limited liability partnership incorporated under the laws of the PRC;|
|●||“Junhan” are to Hangzhou Junhan Equity Investment Partnership (Limited Partnership), a limited liability partnership incorporated under the laws of the PRC;|
|●||“KOL” are to key opinion leaders;|
|●||“Lazada” are to Lazada South East Asia Pte. Ltd., a company incorporated under the laws of the Republic of Singapore on January 19, 2012 and our consolidated subsidiary, and, except where the context otherwise requires, its consolidated subsidiaries and affiliated consolidated entities;|
|●||“M&A Rules” are to the Rules on the Merger and Acquisition of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors jointly issued by MOFCOM, SASAC, STA, CSRC, SAIC and SAFE on August 8, 2006, effective on September 8, 2006 and further amended on June 22, 2009 by the MOFCOM;|
|●||“major subsidiaries” are to the subsidiaries identified in our corporate structure chart in “Item 4. Information on the Company — C. Organizational Structure”;|
|●||“major variable interest entities” or “major VIEs” are to the variable interest entities that account for a significant majority of total revenue and assets of the variable interest entities as a group as described in “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — A. Operating Results — Variable Interest Entity Financial Information”;|
|●||“Memorandum” are to our memorandum of association (as amended from time to time);|
|●||“MIIT” are to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the PRC;|
|●||“MOF” are to the Ministry of Finance of the PRC;|
|●||“MOFCOM” are to the Ministry of Commerce of the PRC;|
|●||“NDRC” are to the National Development and Reform Commission of the PRC;|
|●||“NYSE” are to the New York Stock Exchange;|
|●||“orders” unless the context otherwise requires, are to each confirmed order from a transaction between a buyer and a seller for products and services on the relevant platform, even if the order includes multiple items, during the specified period, whether or not the transaction is settled;|
|●||our “wholesale marketplaces” or “B2B business” are to 1688.com and Alibaba.com, collectively;|
|●||“P4P” are to pay-for-performance;|
|●||“PaaS” are to platform-as-a-service;|
|●||“PBOC” are to the People’s Bank of China;|
|●||“PCAOB” are to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board;|
|●||“PRC government” or “State” are to the central government of the PRC, including all political subdivisions (including provincial, municipal and other regional or local government entities) and its organs or, as the context requires, any of them;|
|●||“Principal Share Registrar” are to Maples Fund Services (Cayman) Limited;|
|●||“PUE” or “power usage effectiveness” are to the ratio of total amount of energy used by a computer data center facility to the energy delivered to computing equipment;|
|●||“QuestMobile” are to QuestMobile, a research institution;|
|●||“representative variable interest entities” or “representative VIEs” are to the variable interest entities identified in our corporate structure chart in “Item 4. Information on the Company — C. Organizational Structure”;|
|●||“RMB” or “Renminbi” are to Renminbi, the lawful currency of the PRC;|
|●||“RSU(s)” are to restricted share unit(s);|
|●||“SaaS” are to software-as-a-service;|
|●||“SAFE” are to the State Administration of Foreign Exchange of the PRC, the PRC governmental agency responsible for matters relating to foreign exchange administration, including local branches, when applicable;|
|●||“SAIC” are to State Administration for Industry and Commerce of the PRC, which has been merged into SAMR;|
|●||“SAMR” are to the State Administration for Market Regulation of the PRC;|
|●||“SAPA” are to a share and asset purchase agreement by and among us, Ant Group, Altaba, SoftBank and the other parties named therein, dated August 12, 2014, together with any subsequent amendments as the context requires;|
|●||“SASAC” are to State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council of the PRC;|
|●||“SEC” are to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission;|
|●||“SFC” are to the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong;|
|●||“SFO” are to the Securities and Futures Ordinance (Chapter 571 of the Laws of Hong Kong), as amended or supplemented from time to time;|
|●||“Share Split” are to the subdivision of each ordinary share into eight Shares, pursuant to which the par value of our Shares was correspondingly changed from US$0.000025 per Share to US$0.000003125 per Share, with effect from July 30, 2019; immediately after the Share Split became effective, our authorized share capital became US$100,000 divided into 32,000,000,000 Shares of par value US$0.000003125 per Share;|
|●||“shareholder(s)” are to holder(s) of Shares and, where the context requires, ADSs;|
|●||“Share(s)” or “ordinary share(s)” are to ordinary share(s) in our capital with par value of US$0.000003125 each;|
|●||“SMEs” are to small and medium-sized enterprises;|
|●||“SoftBank” are to SoftBank Group Corp. (formerly known as SoftBank Corp.), and, except where the context otherwise requires, its consolidated subsidiaries;|
|●||“STA” are to the State Taxation Administration of the PRC;|
|●||“Sun Art” are to Sun Art Retail Group Limited, a company incorporated under the laws of Hong Kong on December 13, 2000 with limited liability, the shares of which are listed on the Main Board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (Stock Code: 6808), and except where the context requires, its consolidated subsidiaries;|
|●||“Takeovers Codes” are to Hong Kong’s Codes on Takeovers and Mergers and Share Buy-backs issued by the SFC;|
|●||“UK” are to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;|
|●||“U.S.” or “United States” are to the United States of America, its territories, its possessions and all areas subject to its jurisdiction;|
|●||“US$” or “U.S. dollars” are to the lawful currency of the United States;|
|●||“U.S. Exchange Act” are to the United States Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder;|
|●||“U.S. GAAP” are to accounting principles generally accepted in the United States;|
|●||“U.S. Securities Act” are to the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder;|
|●||“USTR” are to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative;|
|●||“variable interest entities” or “VIE(s)” are to the variable interest entities that are incorporated and owned by PRC citizens or by PRC entities owned and/or controlled by PRC citizens, where applicable, that hold the ICP licenses, or other business operation licenses or approvals, and generally operate the various websites and/or mobile apps for our Internet businesses or other businesses in which foreign investment is restricted or prohibited, and are consolidated into our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP;|
|●||“VAT” are to value-added tax; all amounts are exclusive of VAT in this annual report except where indicated otherwise;|
|●||“VIE structure” or “Contractual Arrangements” are to the variable interest entity structure;|
|●||“Youku” are to Youku Tudou Inc., a company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands on September 20, 2005 and our indirect wholly-owned subsidiary, and, except where the context otherwise requires, its consolidated subsidiaries and its affiliated consolidated entities, including its variable interest entities and their subsidiaries; where the context requires, Youku also refers to our online video platform under the Youku brand; and|
|●||“Yunfeng Fund(s)” are to one or more Yunfeng investment funds established by Yunfeng Capital Limited or its affiliates, in which Jack Ma currently holds minority interest in the general partners.|
Exchange Rate Information
Our reporting currency is the Renminbi. This annual report contains translations of Renminbi and Hong Kong dollar amounts into U.S. dollars at specific rates solely for the convenience of the reader. Unless otherwise stated, all translations of Renminbi and Hong Kong dollars into U.S. dollars and from U.S. dollars into Renminbi in this annual report were made at a rate of RMB6.3393 to US$1.00 and HK$7.8325 to US$1.00, the respective exchange rates on March 31, 2022 set forth in the H.10 statistical release of the Federal Reserve Board. The translation of Renminbi into U.S. dollars for the 2021 GMV of 11.11 Global Shopping Festival was made at RMB6.3907 to US$1.00, the middle rate on October 29, 2021 as published by the PBOC. We make no representation that any Renminbi, Hong Kong dollar or U.S. dollar amounts referred to in this annual report could have been, or could be, converted into U.S. dollars, Renminbi or Hong Kong dollars, as the case may be, at any particular rate or at all. On July 15, 2022, the noon buying rate for Renminbi and Hong Kong dollars was RMB6.7565 to US$1.00 and HK$7.8499 to US$1.00, respectively.
This annual report on Form 20-F contains forward-looking statements. These statements are made under the “safe harbor” provision under Section 21E of the U.S. Exchange Act, and as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements can be identified by words or phrases such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “future,” “aim,” “estimate,” “intend,” “seek,” “plan,” “believe,” “potential,” “continue,” “ongoing,” “target,” “guidance,” “is/are likely to” or other similar expressions. The forward-looking statements included in this annual report relate to, among others:
|●||our growth strategies and business plans;|
|●||our future business development, results of operations and financial condition;|
|●||our continuing investments in our businesses;|
|●||trends in commerce, cloud computing and digital media and entertainment industries and the other industries in which we operate, both in China and globally, as well as trends in overall technology;|
|●||competition in our industries;|
|●||fluctuations in general economic and business conditions in China and globally;|
|●||expected changes in our revenues and certain cost and expense items and our margins;|
|●||the completion of our investment transactions and regulatory approvals as well as other conditions that must be met in order to complete investment transactions;|
|●||expected results of regulatory investigations, litigations and other proceedings;|
|●||international trade policies, protectionist policies and other policies (including those relating to export control and economic or trade sanctions) that could place restrictions on economic and commercial activity;|
|●||the regulatory environment in which we and companies integral to our ecosystem, including Ant Group, operate in China and globally;|
|●||impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic;|
|●||our sustainability goals; and|
|●||assumptions underlying or related to any of the foregoing.|
Forward-looking statements involve inherent risks and uncertainties. A number of factors could cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statement. These factors include but are not limited to the following: our corporate structure, including the VIE structure we use to operate certain businesses in the PRC, our ability to maintain the trusted status of our ecosystem; risks associated with sustained investments in our businesses; our ability to maintain or grow our revenue or business, including expanding our international and cross border businesses and operations; risks associated with our acquisitions, investments and alliances; uncertainties arising from competition among countries and geopolitical tensions, including protectionist or national security policies; uncertainties and risks associated with a broad range of complex laws and regulations (including in the areas of anti-monopoly and anti-unfair competition, consumer protection, data security and privacy protection and regulation of Internet platforms) in the PRC and globally; cybersecurity risks; fluctuations in general economic and business conditions in China and globally; impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and assumptions underlying or related to any of the foregoing. Please also see “Item 3. Key Information — D. Risk Factors.”
The forward-looking statements made in this annual report relate only to events or information as of the date on which the statements are made in this annual report and are based on current expectations, assumptions, estimates and projections. We undertake no obligation to update any forward-looking statements to reflect events or circumstances after the date on which the statements are made or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events. You should read this annual report and the documents that we have referred to in this annual report completely and with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from what we expect.
ITEM 1. IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS
ITEM 2. OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE
ITEM 3. KEY INFORMATION
B. Capitalization and Indebtedness
C. Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
D. Risk Factors
Summary of Risk Factors
Investing in our company may involve significant risks. Alibaba Group Holding Limited is a Cayman Islands holding company. It does not directly engage in business operations itself. Due to PRC legal restrictions on foreign ownership and investment in certain industries, we, similar to all other entities with foreign-incorporated holding company structures operating in our industry in China, operate through VIEs our Internet businesses and other businesses in which foreign investment is restricted or prohibited in the PRC. The VIEs are incorporated and owned by PRC citizens or by PRC entities owned and/or controlled by PRC citizens, and not by our company. We have entered into certain contractual arrangements which collectively enable us to exercise effective control over the VIEs and realize substantially all of the economic risks and benefits arising from the VIEs. As a result, we include the financial results of each of the VIEs in our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP. Investors in our ADSs and Shares are purchasing equity securities of a Cayman Islands holding company rather than equity securities issued by our consolidated subsidiaries and the VIEs. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — C. Organizational Structure” for more details. See “ — Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure” for risks involving the VIE structure.
In addition, we face various legal and operational risks and uncertainties as a company based in and primarily operating in China. The PRC government has significant authority to oversee and regulate the business operations of a China-based company like us, including overseas listing and overseas fundraisings. See “ — Risks Related to Doing Business in the People’s Republic of China.”
A summary of the risk factors is set forth below, you should read this summary together with the detail risk factors set forth in this annual report.
Risks and uncertainties related to our business and industry include risks and uncertainties associated with the following:
|●||our ability to maintain the trusted status of our ecosystem, and to maintain and improve the network effects of our ecosystems;|
|●||the impact of sustained investment in our businesses on our margins and net income, and our ability to maintain or grow our revenue or our business, as well as the management, operational and financial challenges we face in growing our business and operations;|
|●||our ability to compete effectively;|
|●||our ability to maintain our culture and continue to innovate and adapt to changes in our industry;|
|●||risks relating to our acquisitions, investments and alliances, as well as regulatory approval and review requirements for acquisitions;|
|●||challenges in expanding our international and cross-border businesses and operations;|
|●||economic slowdowns, and the impact of widespread health epidemics or natural disasters;|
|●||international trade or investment policies, barriers to trade or investment and geopolitical conflicts, as well as export control, economic or trade sanctions and the trend towards trade and technology “de-coupling”;|
|●||reputational and other risks due to business dealings by, or connections of, merchants or consumers on our marketplaces with sanctioned countries or persons;|
|●||risks arising from the broad range of evolving laws and regulations that affect our business;|
|●||risks relating to Ant Group and Alipay, including our reliance on Alipay to conduct substantially all of the payment processing and all of the escrow services on our marketplaces, their regulatory compliance risks and our potential conflicts of interests with them;|
|●||potential claims or regulatory actions under competition laws against us, and other potential material litigation and regulatory proceedings;|
|●||the improper use or disclosure of data and the effect of complex and evolving regulations regarding privacy and data protection;|
|●||security breaches and cyberattacks;|
|●||our ability to maintain or improve our technology infrastructure, risks relating to the performance, reliability and security of the Internet infrastructure and the effect of network interruptions;|
|●||our ability to attract, motivate and retain our staff, including key management and experience and capable personnel;|
|●||fraudulent or illegal activities by our employees, business partners and service providers, and risks relating to third-party service providers and ecosystem participants;|
|●||the quality of logistics services provided by logistics service providers and Cainiao;|
|●||potential liability arising from content on our platforms or in our services;|
|●||alleged pirated, counterfeit or illegal items or content, allegations of infringements of intellectual property rights or content restriction violations, and our ability to protect our intellectual property rights;|
|●||the effect of any fraud perpetuated and fictitious transactions conducted in our ecosystem;|
|●||potential claims under consumer protection laws;|
|●||tax compliance efforts that may affect our merchants;|
|●||effects of public scrutiny, or aggressive marketing and communication strategies of our competitors;|
|●||quarter-to-quarter fluctuations of our results of operations;|
|●||our ability to comply with the terms of our indebtedness and to raise additional capital, as well as interest rate risks; and|
|●||the potential insufficiency of insurance coverage.|
Risks and uncertainties related to our corporate structure that may arise from the following:
|●||our shareholders’ limited ability to nominate and elect directors;|
|●||differences among the interests of the Alibaba Partnership, SoftBank and our shareholders;|
|●||anti-takeover provisions in our Articles of Association;|
|●||our shareholders do not hold equity securities of our subsidiaries and the VIEs that have substantive business operations in China;|
|●||risks and uncertainties relating to the VIE structure, including regulatory risks and uncertainties; limitations of contractual arrangements in providing control over the VIEs; potential failure by the VIEs or their equity holders to perform their obligations; potential loss of the ability to use, or otherwise benefit from, the licenses, approvals and assets held by the VIEs; potential conflicts of interests between us and the equity holders, directors and executive officers of the VIEs; as well as potential scrutiny of the contractual arrangements with the VIEs by the PRC tax authority.|
Risks and uncertainties related to doing business in the PRC include risks and uncertainties associated with the following:
|●||Changes and developments in the political and economic policies of the PRC government, and uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations;|
|●||potential delisting of our ADSs from the U.S. pursuant to the HFCA Act;|
|●||PRC regulations relating to investments in offshore companies and employee equity incentive plans;|
|●||our reliance on dividends, loans and other distributions on equity paid by our operating subsidiaries in China, restrictions on currency exchange or outbound capital flows and fluctuations in exchange rates;|
|●||the potential impact of PRC laws and regulations related to Internet advertisement;|
|●||the possibility that we may be subject to PRC income tax on our global income, and potential discontinuation of preferential tax treatments we currently enjoy; and|
|●||the possibility that dividends payable to foreign investors and gains on the sale of our securities by our foreign investors may become subject to PRC taxation, and uncertainties with respect to indirect transfers of equity interests in PRC resident enterprises or other assets attributed to a PRC establishment of a non-PRC company.|
Risks related to our ADSs and Shares include risks and uncertainties associated with the following:
|●||volatilities in the trading prices of our securities, the substantial future sales or perceived potential sales of our securities, and the sustainability of active trading markets for our securities, as well as our different practices as to certain matters compared with many other companies listed in Hong Kong;|
|●||different characteristics of the capital markets in Hong Kong and the U.S., and the possibility of a public offering and listing of our equity securities in Shanghai or Shenzhen;|
|●||the limited ability of our shareholders and U.S. authorities to bring actions against us;|
|●||our exemptions from certain NYSE corporate governance standards and certain disclosure requirements;|
|●||potential limitations on the ability of ADS holders to vote, transfer ADSs and receive distributions on our ordinary shares, and our discretionary proxy from the depositary of our ADSs;|
|●||the exchange between our Shares and our ADSs that may affect liquidity and/or trading prices of our securities and cause delays;|
|●||the possibility that we may become a passive foreign investment company;|
|●||uncertainty as to whether Hong Kong stamp duty will apply to the trading or conversion of our ADSs.|
We discuss the various risks and uncertainties we are subject to in detail below.
Risks Related to Our Business and Industry
Maintaining the trusted status of our ecosystem is critical to our success and growth, and any failure to do so could severely damage our reputation and brand, which would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.
We have established a strong brand name and reputation for our ecosystem. Any loss of trust in our ecosystem or platforms could harm our reputation and the value of our brand, and could result in consumers, merchants, brands, retailers and other participants reducing their levels of activity in our ecosystem, which could materially reduce our revenue and profitability. Our ability to maintain trust in our ecosystem and platforms is based in large part upon:
|●||the quality, value and functionality of products and services as well as the quality and appeal of content available through our ecosystem;|
|●||the reliability and integrity of our company and our platforms, as well as of the merchants, software developers, logistics providers, service providers and other participants in our ecosystem;|
|●||our commitment to high levels of service;|
|●||the safety, security and integrity of the data on our systems, and those of other participants in our ecosystem;|
|●||the manner in which we and other participants in our ecosystem collect, store and use consumer data, and changes in the related regulations and consumer expectations;|
|●||the effectiveness and fairness of rules governing our marketplaces, various platforms and overall ecosystem;|
|●||the strength of our measures to protect consumers and intellectual property rights owners; and|
|●||our ability to provide reliable and trusted payment and escrow services through our arrangements with Alipay.|
Sustained investment in our businesses and our focus on long-term performance and maintaining the health of our ecosystem may negatively affect our margins and our net income.
We focus on the long-term interests of the participants in our ecosystem. We may continue to increase our spending and investments in our businesses, including investing in organic development and incubating new businesses, enhancing consumer experience and user engagement, supporting merchants and acquiring users, as well as enhancing our technology, logistics, supply chain and other long term capabilities. Although we believe these investments are crucial to our success and future growth, they will have the effect of increasing our costs and lowering our margins and profit, and this effect may be significant in the short term and potentially over longer periods. Certain of our businesses may have negative margins or margins that are lower than what our China commerce retail business has enjoyed in the past. For example, certain of our businesses, including direct sales, community marketplace, Taobao Deals, international commerce, local consumer services and digital media and entertainment, have incurred, and may continue to incur, losses. There can be no assurance that these investments will be able to generate the growth or profitability that we expect. Many of our businesses that are currently loss making may not turn profitable at our expected timing or at our expected scale, or at all. In addition, we expect that our margin will continue to be affected by the continuing shift in our revenue mix to our direct sales businesses.
We may not be able to maintain or grow our revenue or our business.
Our ability to continue to grow our revenue depends on a number of factors, including the number and engagement of consumers on our platforms, the value that we are able to offer to merchants, brands, retailers and other businesses, and our consumer insight and technology capabilities and infrastructure. See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — A. Operating Results — Factors Affecting Our Results of Operations — Our Ability to Create Value for Our Users and Generate Revenue” and “— Our Monetization Model.”
Our revenue growth also depends on our ability to continue to grow our core businesses, newly-developed businesses, as well as businesses we have acquired or which we consolidate. We are exploring and will continue to explore in the future new business initiatives, including in industries and markets in which we have limited or no experience, as well as new business models, that may be untested. Developing new businesses, initiatives and models requires significant investments of time and resources, and may increase our costs and present new and difficult technological and operational challenges. Particularly in the commerce space, we face various challenges while facilitating the convergence of online and offline retail and digitalization of offline business operations.
Growing our existing and new businesses, such as direct sales business and local consumer services business, also involve compliance and other risks, including impairments or write-offs of inventory and other assets, potential labor disputes, worker safety, minimum wage and social insurance requirements, including offering minimum wage and providing social insurance for delivery riders, as well as industry and regulatory changes that may result in significant increase in compliance costs, and/or require us to change our operation and business models or practices. For example, as we continue to grow our direct sales businesses, we face new and increased risks. These risks include those relating to inventory procurement and management, such as failure to stock sufficient inventory to meet demands or additional costs or write-offs resulting from overstocking, supply chain management, relationships with suppliers, accounts receivable and related potential impairment charges. There are also risks relating to new and heightened regulatory requirements and increased liabilities to which we are subject as operators of direct sales businesses, including those relating to consumer protection, customs and permits and licenses, and allegations of unfair business practices, such as alleged favorable treatment of our own services and products, including those offered by our direct sales business and cloud business, over third-party services and products on our platforms. Failure to adequately address these and other risks and challenges relating to our direct sales business may harm our relationship with suppliers, consumers, merchants and other service providers on our platforms, adversely affect our business and results of operations and subject us to regulatory scrutiny or liabilities. In addition, many of our businesses, such as livestreaming and marketing services provided by Alimama, may face quickly evolving regulations and increasing compliance risks in a wide range of areas, including platform liability, content, data security, consumer protection and taxation, which may lead to regulatory investigations, penalties and liabilities that may materially and adversely affect our business operations and share price.
These additional costs and risks may materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition, subject us to regulatory scrutiny and liabilities, damage our reputation, and negatively affect the price of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities. We may encounter difficulties or setbacks in the execution of various growth strategies, including in relation to our direct sales business, which accounts for a significant portion of our revenue, and our growth strategies may not generate the returns we expect within the timeframe we anticipate, or at all.
In addition, our overall or segment revenue growth may slow or our revenues may decline for other reasons, including increasing customer acquisition costs, increasing competition, slowing macroeconomic environment, inflation, disruptions to China’s economy or the global economy from pandemics, natural disasters, armed conflicts or other events, as well as changes in the geopolitical landscape, government policies or general economic conditions. As our revenue grows to a higher base level, our revenue growth rate may slow in the future. Furthermore, due to the size and scale we have achieved, our user base may not continue to grow as quickly or at all.
If we are unable to compete effectively, our business, financial condition and results of operations would be materially and adversely affected.
We face increasingly intense competition, principally from established Chinese Internet companies and their respective affiliates, global and regional e-commerce players, cloud computing service providers and digital media and entertainment providers. These areas of our business are subject to rapid market change, the introduction of new business models, and the entry of new and well-funded competitors. Increased investments made and lower prices offered by our competitors may require us to divert significant managerial, financial and human resources in order to remain competitive, and ultimately may reduce our market share and negatively impact the profitability of our business. See also “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Competition.”
Our ability to compete depends on a number of other factors as well, some of which may be beyond our control, including alliances, acquisitions or consolidations within our industries that may result in stronger competitors, technological advances, shifts in customer preferences and changes in the regulatory environment in the markets we operate. Existing and new competitors may leverage their established platforms or market positions, or introduce innovative business models or technologies, to launch highly engaging content, products or services that may attract a large user base and achieve rapid growth, which may make it more challenging for us to acquire new customers and materially and adversely affect our business expansion and results of operations.
In addition, if international players gain greater access to the China market, certain of our businesses, such as our cloud business and digital media and entertainment business, could be subject to greater competition and pricing pressure, which could reduce our margins or otherwise negatively affect our results of operations. As we acquire new businesses and expand into new industries and sectors, we face competition from major players in these industries and sectors. Moreover, as we continue to expand into markets outside of China, we increasingly face competition from domestic and international players operating in these markets, as well as potential geopolitical tensions, regulatory challenges and protectionist policies that may support domestic players in those markets. As we develop our platforms and other businesses, such as our direct sales businesses, we may also be perceived to compete with other participants in our ecosystem, such as certain merchants and retailers, which may negatively affect our relationships with them.
If we are not able to compete effectively, the level of economic activity and user engagement in our ecosystem may decrease and our market share and profitability may be negatively affected, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations, as well as our reputation and brand.
We may not be able to maintain and improve the network effects of our ecosystem, which could negatively affect our business and prospects.
Our ability to maintain a healthy and vibrant ecosystem that creates strong network effects among consumers, merchants, brands, retailers and other participants is critical to our success. The extent to which we are able to maintain and strengthen these network effects depends on our ability to:
|●||offer secure and open platforms for all participants and balance the interests of these participants;|
|●||provide a wide range of high-quality product, service and content offerings to consumers;|
|●||attract and retain a wide range of consumers, merchants, brands and retailers;|
|●||provide effective technologies, infrastructure and services that meet the evolving needs of consumers, merchants, brands, retailers and other ecosystem participants;|
|●||arrange secure and trusted payment settlement and escrow services;|
|●||comply with legal requirements and address user concerns with respect to data security and privacy;|
|●||improve our logistics data platform and coordinate fulfillment and delivery services with logistics service providers;|
|●||attract and retain third-party service providers that are able to provide quality services on commercially reasonable terms to our merchants, brands, retailers and other ecosystem participants;|
|●||maintain the quality of our customer service; and|
|●||continue adapting to the changing demands of the market.|
In addition, changes we make to our current operations to enhance and improve our ecosystem or to comply with regulatory requirements may be viewed positively from one participant group’s perspective, such as consumers, but may have negative effects from another group’s perspective, such as merchants. If we fail to balance the interests of all participants in our ecosystem, consumers, merchants, brands, retailers and other participants may spend less time, mind share and resources on our platforms and may conduct fewer transactions or use alternative platforms, any of which could result in a material decrease in our revenue and net income.
We may not be able to maintain our culture, which has been a key to our success.
Since our founding, our culture has been defined by our mission, vision and values, and we believe that our culture has been critical to our success. In particular, our culture has helped us serve the long-term interests of our customers, attract, retain and motivate employees and create value for our shareholders. We face a number of challenges that may affect our ability to sustain our corporate culture, including:
|●||failure to identify, attract, promote and retain people who share our culture, mission, vision and values in leadership positions;|
|●||retirements and departures of founders, executives and members of the Alibaba Partnership, and failure to execute an effective management succession plan;|
|●||challenges of effectively incentivizing and motivating employees, including members of senior management, and in particular those who have gained a substantial amount of personal wealth related to share-based awards;|
|●||the increasing size, complexity, geographic coverage and cultural diversity of our businesses and workforce;|
|●||challenges in managing a workforce that is expanding through organic growth and acquisitions, in providing effective training to this workforce, and in promoting a culture of compliance with laws and regulations and preventing misconduct among our employees and participants in our ecosystem;|
|●||competitive pressures to move in directions that may divert us from our mission, vision and values;|
|●||the pressure from the public markets to focus on short-term results instead of long-term value creation; and|
|●||the increasing need to develop expertise in new areas of business, such as direct sales business, consumer services and expansion of our logistics network services.|
If we are not able to maintain our culture or if our culture fails to deliver the long-term results we expect to achieve, our reputation, business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects could be materially and adversely affected.
If we are not able to continue to innovate or if we fail to adapt to changes in our industry, our business, financial condition and results of operations would be materially and adversely affected.
Our industries are characterized by rapidly changing technology, evolving industry standards, new mobile apps and protocols, new products and services, new media and entertainment content – including user-generated content – and changing user demands and trends. Furthermore, our domestic and international competitors are continuously developing innovations in personalized search and recommendation, online shopping and marketing, communications, social networking, entertainment, logistics and other services, to enhance user experience. As a result, we continue to invest significant resources in our infrastructure, research and development and other areas in order to enhance our businesses and operations, as well as to explore new growth strategies and introduce new high-quality products and services.
Our investments in innovations and new technologies, which may be significant, may not increase our competitiveness or generate financial returns in the short term, or at all, and we may not be successful in adopting and implementing new technologies, such as AI. The changes and developments taking place in our industry may also require us to re-evaluate our business model and adopt significant changes to our long-term strategies and business plans. Our failure to innovate and adapt to these changes and developments in a timely manner could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Even if we timely innovate and adopt changes in our strategies and plans, we may nevertheless fail to realize the anticipated benefits of these changes or even generate lower levels of revenue as a result.
Our failure to manage the significant management, operational and financial challenges involved in growing our business and operations could harm us.
Our business has become increasingly complex as the scale, diversity and geographic coverage of our business and our workforce continue to expand through both organic growth and acquisitions. This expansion increases the complexity of our operations and places a significant strain on our management, operational and financial resources. The challenges involved in expanding our businesses require our employees to handle new and expanded responsibilities and duties. If our employees fail to adapt to the expansion or if we are unsuccessful in hiring, training, managing and integrating new employees or retraining and expanding the roles of our existing employees, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially harmed.
Moreover, our current and planned staffing, systems, policies, procedures and controls may not be adequate to support our future operations. To effectively manage continuing expansion and growth of our operations and workforce, we will need to continue to improve our personnel management, transaction processing, operational and financial systems, policies, procedures and controls, which could be particularly challenging as we acquire new operations with different and incompatible systems in new industries or geographic areas. These efforts will require significant managerial, financial and human resources. There can be no assurance that we will be able to effectively manage our growth or to implement all these systems, policies, procedures and control measures successfully. If we are not able to manage our growth effectively, our business and prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
We face risks relating to our acquisitions, investments and alliances.
We have acquired and invested in a large number and a diverse range of businesses, including those in different countries and regions, technologies, services and products in recent years. We have also made investments of varying sizes in joint ventures. From time to time, we may have a number of pending investments and acquisitions that are subject to closing conditions and risks of failure to close. See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — A. Operating Results — Recent Investment, Acquisition and Strategic Alliance Activities.” As we continue to invest in our ecosystem, we expect to continue to evaluate and consider a wide array of potential strategic transactions as part of our overall business strategy, including business combinations, acquisitions and dispositions of businesses, technologies, services, products and other assets, as well as strategic investments, joint ventures and alliances. At any given time we may be engaged in discussing or negotiating a range of these types of transactions. These transactions involve significant challenges and risks, including:
|●||difficulties in, and significant and unanticipated additional costs and expenses resulting from, integrating into our business the large number of personnel, operations, products, services, technology, internal controls and financial reporting of the businesses we acquire;|
|●||disruption of our ongoing business, distraction of and significant time and attention required from our management and employees and increases in our expenses;|
|●||departure of skilled professionals and proven management teams of acquired businesses, as well as the loss of established client relationships of those businesses we invest in or acquire;|
|●||for investments over which we may not obtain management and operational control, we may lack influence over the controlling partners or shareholders, or may not have aligned interests with those of our partners or other shareholders;|
|●||additional or conflicting regulatory requirements, heightened restrictions on and scrutiny of investments, acquisitions and foreign ownership in other jurisdictions, on national security grounds or for other reasons, regulatory requirements such as filings and approvals under the anti-monopoly and competition laws, rules and regulations; the risk that acquisitions or investments may fail to close, due to political and regulatory challenges or protectionist policies, as well as related compliance and publicity risks;|
|●||actual or alleged misconduct, unscrupulous business practices or non-compliance by us or any company we acquire or invest in or by its affiliates or current or former employees, whether before, during or after our acquisition or investments;|
|●||difficulties in identifying and selecting appropriate targets and strategic partners, including potential loss of opportunities for strategic transactions with competitors of our investee companies and strategic partners;|
|●||difficulties in conducting sufficient and effective due diligence on potential targets and unforeseen or hidden liabilities or additional incidences of non-compliance, operating losses, costs and expenses that may adversely affect us following our acquisitions or investments or other strategic transactions;|
|●||negative impact on our cash and credit profile from loans to or guarantees for the benefit of equity method investees;|
|●||losses arising from disposal of investments or de-consolidation of businesses; and|
|●||actual or potential impairment charges or write-offs of investments in equity method investees or intangible assets (including intellectual property we acquire), and goodwill recorded in connection with invested businesses, particularly investments in publicly traded companies, in the event that a decline in fair value below the carrying value of our equity method investments is other-than-temporary, or the carrying amount of a reporting unit to which goodwill is allocated exceeds its fair value. See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — E. Critical Accounting Estimates — Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates — Impairment Assessment on Investments in Equity Method Investees” and “—Impairment Assessment on Goodwill and Intangible Assets.”|
These and other risks could lead to negative publicity, increased regulatory scrutiny, litigation, government inquiries, investigations, actions or penalties against us and the companies we invest in or acquire on the ground of non-compliance with regulatory requirements, or even against our other businesses, and may force us to incur significant additional expenses and allocate significant management and human resources to rectify or improve these companies’ corporate governance standards, disclosure controls and procedures or internal controls and systems. Due to business or financial underperformance, regulatory scrutiny or compliance reasons, we may need to divest interests in, or terminate business cooperation with, businesses and entities in which we have invested capital and other resources. See also “— PRC regulations regarding acquisitions impose significant regulatory approval and review requirements, which could make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions and subject us to fines or other administrative penalties.” As a result, we may experience significant difficulties and uncertainties carrying out investments and acquisitions, and our growth strategy, reputation and/or the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities may be materially and adversely affected.
In addition, our strategic investments and acquisitions may adversely affect our financial results, at least in the short term. For example, acquisitions of, and continued investments in lower margin or loss-making businesses, such as Koala, Lazada, Cainiao and Sun Art, and the integration of our consumer services business, have negatively affected our margins and net income. Acquired businesses that are loss-making may continue to sustain losses and may not become profitable in the near future or at all. The performance of our current and future equity method investees may also adversely affect our net income. There can be no assurance that we will be able to grow our acquired or invested businesses, or realize returns, benefits of synergies and growth opportunities we expect in connection with these investments and acquisitions.
We face challenges in expanding our international and cross-border businesses and operations.
In addition to risks that generally apply to our acquisitions and investments, we face risks associated with expanding into an increasing number of markets where we have limited or no experience, we may be less well-known or have fewer local resources and we may need to localize our business practices, culture and operations. We also face protectionist or national security policies that could, among other things, hinder our ability to execute our business strategies and put us at a competitive disadvantage relative to domestic companies in other jurisdictions. The expansion of our international and cross-border businesses will also expose us to risks and challenges inherent in operating businesses globally, including:
|●||challenges in replicating or adapting our company policies and procedures to operating environments different from that of China, including technology and logistics infrastructure;|
|●||challenges of maintaining efficient and consolidated internal systems, including IT infrastructure, and of achieving customization and integration of these systems with the other parts of our ecosystem;|
|●||lack of acceptance of our product and service offerings, and challenges of localizing our offerings to appeal to local tastes;|
|●||failure to understand cultural differences, local consumer behaviors and preferences and local business practices;|
|●||protectionist or national security policies that restrict our ability to:|
|●||invest in or acquire companies;|
|●||develop, import or export certain technologies, such as the national AI initiative proposed by the U.S. government;|
|●||utilize technologies that are deemed by local governmental regulators to pose a threat to their national security; or|
|●||obtain or maintain the necessary licenses and authorizations to operate our businesses;|
|●||the need for increased resources to manage regulatory compliance across our international businesses;|
|●||failure to attract and retain capable talent with international perspectives who can effectively manage and operate local businesses;|
|●||compliance with local laws and regulations, including those relating to e-commerce marketplaces and platforms, digital services, privacy and data security, such as the GDPR, consumer and labor protection, and environmental regulations, and increased compliance costs across different legal systems;|
|●||heightened restrictions and barriers on the transfer of data between different jurisdictions;|
|●||differing, complex and potentially adverse customs, import/export laws, tax rules and regulations or other trade barriers or restrictions, including significant delays in or even suspensions of customs clearance, which may be applicable to transactions conducted through our international and cross-border platforms, related compliance obligations and consequences of non-compliance, and any new developments in these areas;|
|●||compliance with new and evolving laws and regulations governing e-commerce and digital services and platforms, such as the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act proposed by the European Commission;|
|●||availability, reliability and security of international and cross-border payment systems and logistics infrastructure;|
|●||exchange rate fluctuations, which may have a material adverse effect on cross-border commerce businesses and businesses in the affected countries or regions; and|
|●||political instability and general economic or political conditions in particular countries or regions, including territorial or trade disputes, war and terrorism.|
In addition, compliance with cross-border e-commerce tax laws that apply to our businesses will also affect a number of our businesses, increase our compliance costs and subject us to additional risks. Failure to manage these risks and challenges could negatively affect our ability to expand our international and cross-border businesses and operations as well as materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. For example, the European Union’s removal of value-added tax exemption for cross-border parcels valued below €22, which took effect in July 2021, has negatively affected our international commerce business.
Our business operations and financial position may be materially and adversely affected by any economic slowdown in China as well as globally.
Our revenue and net income are impacted to a significant extent by economic conditions in China and globally, as well as economic conditions specific to our business. The global economy, markets and levels of spending by businesses and consumers are influenced by many factors beyond our control, including pandemics and other natural disasters.
The growth of China’s economy has slowed in recent years compared to prior years. There have also been concerns about the relationships among China and other Asian countries, the relationship between China and the United States, as well as the relationship between the United States and certain other Asian countries such as North Korea, which may result in or intensify potential conflicts in relation to territorial, regional security and trade disputes. See “— Changes in international trade or investment policies and barriers to trade or investment, and any ongoing geopolitical conflict, may have an adverse effect on our business and expansion plans, and could lead to the delisting of our securities from U.S. exchanges and/or other restrictions or prohibitions on investing in our securities.” The COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted business operations, supply chain and workforce availability across the world, leading to substantial declines in business activities that have negatively impacted and may continue to negatively impact our business, financial condition and results of operations. See “— An occurrence of a widespread health epidemic or other outbreaks or natural disasters could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.” Recently, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has resulted in significant disruptions to supply chains, logistics and business activities in the region that have negatively affected our international commerce business and Cainiao’s international logistics business, negatively impacting the number of orders and revenue of AliExpress and Cainiao and increasing the operating costs of Cainiao. The conflict has also caused, and continues to intensify, significant geopolitical tensions in Europe and across the globe. The resulting sanctions imposed are expected to have significant impacts on the economic conditions of the countries and markets targeted by such sanctions, and may have unforeseen, unpredictable secondary effects on global energy prices, supply chains and other aspects of the global economy, which increases logistics costs and negatively affects our business operations, such as Cainiao. Any disruptions or continuing or worsening slowdown, whether as a result of trade conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine conflict or other reasons, could significantly reduce commerce activities in China and globally, which could lead to significant reduction in merchants’ demand for and spending on the various services we offer, such as our marketing services, logistics services and cloud computing services. An economic downturn, whether actual or perceived, a further decrease in economic growth rates or an otherwise uncertain economic outlook in any market in which we operate could have a material adverse effect on business and consumer spending and, as a result, adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In addition, because we hold a significant amount of cash and cash equivalents and short-term investments, if financial institutions and issuers of financial instruments that we hold become insolvent or if the market for these financial instruments become illiquid as a result of a severe economic downturn, our business and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected.
An occurrence of a widespread health epidemic or other outbreaks or natural disasters could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our business could be materially and adversely affected by the outbreak of a widespread health epidemic, such as COVID-19, swine flu, avian influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome, Ebola or Zika; natural disasters, such as snowstorms, earthquakes, fires, floods and the effects of climate change (such as drought, floods and increased storm severity); or other events, such as wars, acts of terrorism, environmental accidents, power shortages or communication interruptions. The occurrence of a disaster or a prolonged outbreak of an epidemic illness or other adverse public health developments in China or elsewhere in the world could materially disrupt our industry and our business and operations, and have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. For example, these events could cause a temporary closure of the facilities we use for our operations, significantly disrupt supply chains and logistics services or severely impact consumer behaviors and the operations of merchants, business partners and other participants in our ecosystem. Our operations could also be disrupted if any of our employees or employees of our business partners are suspected of contracting an epidemic disease, since this could require us or our business partners to quarantine some or all of these employees or disinfect the facilities used for our operations. In addition, our revenue and profitability could be materially reduced to the extent that a natural disaster, health epidemic or other outbreak harms the global or PRC economy in general.
In particular, the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant negative impact on the global economy, which has adversely affected our business and financial results. Starting in late January 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a series of lock-downs, social distancing requirements and travel restrictions that have significantly and negatively affected, and may continue to negatively affect, our various businesses in China, particularly our China commerce and local consumer services businesses. Our key international commerce businesses also experienced a negative impact. The COVID-19 pandemic also presented and may continue to present challenges to our business operations as well as the business operations of our merchants, business partners and other participants in our ecosystem, such as closure of offices and facilities, disruptions to or even suspensions of normal business and logistics operations, as well as restrictions on travel. It is not possible to determine the ultimate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our business operations and financial results, which is highly dependent on numerous factors, including the duration and spread of the pandemic and any resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic in China or elsewhere, actions taken by governments, the response of businesses and individuals to the pandemic, the impact of the pandemic on business and economic conditions in China and globally, consumer demand, our ability and the ability of merchants, retailers, logistics service providers and other participants in our ecosystem to continue operations in areas affected by the pandemic and our efforts and expenditures to support merchants and partners and ensure the safety of our employees. The COVID-19 pandemic may continue to adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Changes in international trade or investment policies and barriers to trade or investment, and any ongoing geopolitical conflict, may have an adverse effect on our business and expansion plans, and could lead to the delisting of our securities from U.S. exchanges and/or other restrictions or prohibitions on investing in our securities.
In recent years, international market conditions and the international regulatory environment have been increasingly affected by competition among countries and geopolitical frictions. In particular, the U.S. government has advocated for and taken steps toward restricting trade in certain goods, particularly from China. The progress of trade talks between China and the United States is subject to uncertainties, and there can be no assurance as to whether the United States will maintain or reduce tariffs, or impose additional tariffs on Chinese products in the near future. The United States may take further actions to eliminate perceived unfair competitive advantages created by alleged manipulating actions. Changes to national trade or investment policies, treaties and tariffs, fluctuations in exchange rates or the perception that these changes could occur, and could adversely affect the financial and economic conditions in the jurisdictions in which we operate, as well as our international and cross-border operations, our financial condition and results of operations.
In addition, the United States is considering ways to limit U.S. investment portfolio flows into China. For example, in May 2020, under pressure from U.S. administration officials, the independent Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board suspended its implementation of plans to change the benchmark of one of its retirement asset funds to an international index that includes companies in emerging markets, including China. China-based companies, including us and our related entities, may become subject to executive orders or other regulatory actions that may, among other things, prohibit U.S. investors from investing in these companies or delist the securities of these companies from U.S. exchanges. As a result, U.S. and certain other persons may be prohibited from investing in the securities of our company or our related entities, whether or not they are listed on U.S. exchanges. For example, in November 2020, the U.S. administration issued U.S. Executive Order 13959, prohibiting investments by any U.S. persons in publicly traded securities of certain Chinese companies that are deemed owned or controlled by the Chinese military. In May 2021, the American depositary shares of China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom were delisted from the NYSE to comply with this executive order. In June 2021, the U.S. administration expanded the scope of the executive order to Chinese defense and surveillance technology companies. Geopolitical tensions between China and the United States may intensify and the United States may adopt even more drastic measures in the future.
China and other countries have retaliated and may further retaliate in response to new trade policies, treaties and tariffs implemented by the United States. For instance, in response to the tariffs announced by the United States, in 2018 and 2019, China announced it would stop buying U.S. agricultural products and imposed tariffs on over US$185 billion worth of U.S. goods. Although China subsequently granted tariff exemptions for certain U.S. products as a result of trade talks and the phase one trade deal agreed with the United States, it is uncertain whether there will be any further material changes to China’s tariff policies. Any further actions to increase existing tariffs or impose additional tariffs could result in an escalation of the trade conflict, which would have an adverse effect on manufacturing, trade and a wide range of industries that rely on trade, including logistics, retail sales and other businesses and services, which could adversely affect our business operations and financial results.
Additionally, China has issued regulations to give itself the ability to unilaterally nullify the effects of certain foreign restrictions that are deemed to be unjustified to Chinese individuals and entities. The Rules on Counteracting Unjustified Extra-territorial Application of Foreign Legislation and Other Measures promulgated by the MOFCOM on January 9, 2021, provide that, among other things, Chinese individuals or entities are required to report to the MOFCOM within 30 days if they are prohibited or restricted from engaging in normal business activities with third-party countries or their nationals or entities due to non-Chinese laws or measures; and the MOFCOM, following the decision of the relevant Chinese authorities, may issue prohibition orders contravening such non-Chinese laws or measures. Furthermore, on June 10, 2021, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China promulgated the Anti-foreign Sanctions Law. The Anti-foreign Sanctions Law prohibits any organization or individual from implementing or providing assistance in implementation of discriminatory restrictive measures taken by any foreign state against the citizens or organizations of China. In addition, all organizations and individuals in China are required to implement the retaliatory measures taken by relevant departments of the State Council of the PRC. Since the aforesaid laws and rules are relatively new, there exist high uncertainties as to how such regulations will be interpreted and implemented and how they would affect our business, results of operations or the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
Changes in laws and policy could negatively affect, for example, both export-focused businesses on AliExpress and Alibaba.com, as well as import-focused businesses on Tmall, Tmall Global and Koala. Conflicting regulatory requirements could also increase our compliance costs and subject us to regulatory scrutiny. Any further escalation in geopolitical tensions or a trade war, or news and rumors of any escalation, could affect activity levels within our ecosystem and have a material and adverse effect on our business, results of operations, and/or the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities. Any restrictions imposed by the United States or other countries on capital flows into China or China-based companies may prevent potential investors from investing in us, and the trading prices and liquidity of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities may suffer as a result.
Geopolitical tensions and policy changes have also led to measures that could have adverse effects on China-based issuers, including the U.S. Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, which requires companies listed in the United States whose audit reports and/or auditors are not subject to review by the PCAOB to be subject to enhanced disclosure obligations and be subject to delisting if they do not comply with the requirements. See “— Risks Related to Doing Business in the People’s Republic of China — If our auditor is sanctioned or otherwise penalized by the PCAOB or the SEC as a result of failure to comply with inspection or investigation requirements, our financial statements will be determined to be not in compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Exchange Act or other laws or rules in the United States, which could ultimately result in our ADSs being delisted and materially and adversely affect our other securities.”
Export control, economic or trade sanctions and a heightened trend towards trade and technology “de-coupling” could negatively affect our business operations and subject us to regulatory investigations, fines, penalties or other actions and reputational harm, which could materially and adversely affect our competitiveness and business operations, as well as the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
The United Nations and a number of countries and jurisdictions, including China, the United States and the EU, have adopted various export control and economic or trade sanction regimes. In particular, the U.S. government and other governments have threatened and/or imposed export control, as well as economic and trade sanctions on a number of China-based companies. It is possible that the United States or other jurisdictions may impose further export control, sanctions, trade embargoes, and other heightened regulatory requirements on China and China-based companies in a wide range of areas such as sale or transfer of technologies, data security, emerging technologies, “dual-use” commercial technologies that could be deployed for surveillance or military purposes, import/export of technology, purchase and sale by Americans of securities of Chinese firms, or other restrictions or prohibitions on business activities. These regulatory requirements could (1) prohibit or restrict firms from selling, exporting, re-exporting or transferring certain technology, components, software and other items to China-based companies, (2) prohibit or restrict persons from entering into transactions with China-based companies, (3) prohibit or restrict China-based companies from accessing data, providing services in or operating in the sanctioning jurisdiction, or (4) prohibit purchases and sale of securities of Chinese firms, among other prohibitions or restrictions. In addition, Chinese companies, if targeted under U.S. economic sanctions, may lose access to the U.S. markets and the U.S. financial system, including the ability to use U.S. dollars to conduct transactions, settle payments or to maintain correspondent accounts with U.S. financial institutions. U.S. entities and individuals may not be permitted to do business with sanctioned companies and persons, and international banks and other companies may as a matter of law and/or policy decide not to engage in transactions with such companies. Moreover, certain reports have suggested that the U.S. government may use its influence to block Chinese financial institutions from using the SWIFT network that enables financial institutions to send and receive information about financial transactions, which may in turn adversely affect the ability of Chinese companies to access international payment, clearance and settlement networks.
These restrictions or sanctions, and similar or more expansive restrictions or sanctions that may be imposed by the United States or other jurisdictions in the future, whether directed against us, our affiliates, including Ant Group, or our business partners, may materially and adversely affect our and our technology partners’ abilities to acquire technologies, systems, devices or components that may be critical to our technology infrastructure, service offerings and business operations. As a result of heightened restrictions, we and our technology partners may be forced to develop equivalent technologies or components, or obtain equivalent technologies or components from sources outside the United States. We and they may not be able to do so in a timely manner and on commercially favorable or acceptable terms, or at all. These restrictions, sanctions, or other prohibitions could negatively affect our and our technology partners’ abilities to recruit research and development talent or conduct technological collaboration with scientists and research institutes in the United States, Europe or other countries, which could significantly harm our competitiveness, as well as increase our compliance costs and risks. These restriction, sanctions, or other prohibitions could also restrict our ability to operate in the United States or other jurisdictions. For example, U.S. entities and individuals with whom we have existing contractual or other relationships may be prohibited from continuing to do business with us, including performing their obligations under agreements involving our supply chain, logistics, software development, cloud services and other products and services. In addition, holders of our debt and equity securities may be required or forced to divest, which could result in significant loss to them.
In August 2020, MOFCOM and the Ministry of Science and Technology of the PRC issued a notice which stipulates that certain technologies, including technologies related to personalized information push services based on data analysis, are restricted from export outside the PRC without approval. Some of our technologies could fall within the scope of technologies subject to such export restriction. In addition, according to the PRC Export Control Law which came into effect in December 2020, we, our affiliates and business partners may also be required to obtain licenses, permits and governmental approvals to export certain goods, technologies and services. These and additional regulatory restrictions and requirements that may become effective from time to time may increase our compliance burden and affect our ability and efficiency in expanding to international markets.
Our business and results of operations, as well as the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities may be materially and negatively affected by current or future export control or economic and trade sanctions or developments. Export control and economic sanctions laws and regulations are complex and likely subject to frequent changes, and the interpretation and enforcement of the relevant regulations involve substantial uncertainties, which may be driven by political and/or other factors that are out of our control or heightened by national security concerns. The high level of uncertainty relating to potential actions and their timing and scope, as well as market rumors or speculation on potential actions, could also negatively and materially affect the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
Furthermore, if any of our expanding network of investee companies, global business partners, joint venture partners or other parties that have collaborative relationships with us or our affiliates, including Ant Group, were to become subject to sanctions or export control restrictions, this might result in significant negative publicity, governmental investigations and reputational harm, as well as losses from impairments or write-offs. Some of such companies, partners and other parties, including some of our investee companies, have become subject to sanctions or export control restrictions. For example, in connection with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, certain Russian shareholders of our AliExpress Russia joint venture have become subject to varying degrees of sanctions. While we believe that the risks are low, there is no assurance that the scope of sanctions will not expand to include AliExpress Russia or us.
Media reports on alleged violation of export control or economic and trade sanctions laws, or on uses of the technologies, systems or innovations that we develop, such as biometrics data analysis and artificial intelligence, for purposes which could be perceived as inappropriate or controversial, by us, our clients, business partners, investees or other parties not affiliated with or controlled by us, even on matters not involving us, could damage our reputation and lead to regulatory investigations, fines and penalties against us. Such fines and penalties may be significant, and if we were publicly named or investigated by any regulator on the basis of suspected or alleged violations of export control or economic and trade sanctions laws and rules, even in situations where the potential amount or fine involved may be relatively small, our reputation could be significantly harmed. Any of these circumstances may cause the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities to decline significantly, and materially reduce the value of your investment in our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
We may suffer reputational harm and the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities may decrease significantly due to business dealings by, or connections of, merchants or consumers on our marketplaces with sanctioned countries or persons.
The U.S. government imposes broad economic and trade restrictions on dealings with certain countries and regions, including the Crimea, certain regions affected by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria, or the Sanctioned Countries, and numerous individuals and entities, including those designated as having engaged in activities relating to terrorism, drug trafficking, cybercrime, the rough diamond trade, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or human rights violations, or the Sanctioned Persons. The U.S. government’s economic sanctions programs evolve or threaten to change frequently, including with respect to the Sanctioned Countries and other countries, such as Russia and Venezuela, and there are risks of further enhanced economic sanctions concerning these countries, among others. It is not, however, possible to predict with a reasonable degree of certainty how the regulatory environment concerning U.S. economic sanctions may develop. The United Nations, the EU, the UK, and other countries also impose economic and trade restrictions, including on certain Sanctioned Countries and Sanctioned Persons. Recently, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has resulted in additional sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S., the EU, the UK, and other countries.
As a Cayman Islands company with the substantial majority of our subsidiaries and operations outside of the U.S., UK and EU, we are generally not required to comply with U.S., UK, and EU sanctions to the same extent as U.S., UK or EU entities. However, for companies like us, their U.S., UK, and EU subsidiaries, employees who are U.S. persons or UK or EU nationals, activities in the U.S., UK, or EU, activities involving U.S.-origin goods, technology or services, and certain conduct or dealings, among other activities, are subject to applicable sanctions requirements. We do not have employees or operations in any of the Sanctioned Countries, and, although our websites are open and available worldwide, we do not actively solicit business from the Sanctioned Countries or Sanctioned Persons. In the case of Alibaba.com, our aggregate cash revenue from members in these Sanctioned Countries in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2022 accounted for a negligible portion of our total revenue. In the case of AliExpress, Taobao and Tmall, an insignificant percentage of orders have been placed by consumers from the Sanctioned Countries, with a negligible amount of aggregate GMV in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2022 through transactions conducted voluntarily among merchants and consumers on these marketplaces. As all transaction fees on AliExpress, Taobao and Tmall are paid by merchants, primarily based in China, we do not earn any fees or commission from consumers in Sanctioned Countries in respect of transactions conducted on these platforms.
We have established a compliance program that aims to ensure our compliance with these economic and trade restrictions, as well as export control regimes. However, these laws and regulations are complex and subject to frequent change, including with respect to jurisdictional reach and the lists of countries, entities, individuals and technologies subject to sanctions and other regulatory controls. For example, the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act was re-introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2021. If enacted, this bill would require publicly-listed companies in the United States including us to disclose information about their supply chain links to China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Region, or Xinjiang. In December 2021, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, or the UFLP Act, which was signed into law on December 23, 2021. The UFLP Act prohibits from importation into the United States any goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in Xinjiang, or by certain entities within Xinjiang. We may incur significant costs related to current, new or changing sanctions, embargoes, export controls programs or other restrictions and disclosure requirements, as well as negative publicity, investigations, fines, fees or settlements, which may be difficult to predict. We also could face increased compliance costs and risks as we expand globally and into additional businesses, such as cloud computing.
Certain institutional investors, including state and municipal governments in the United States and universities, as well as financial institutions, have proposed or adopted divestment or similar initiatives regarding investments in companies that do business with Sanctioned Countries. Accordingly, as a result of activities on our marketplaces or in connection with other business we operate that may involve users based in the Sanctioned Countries or Sanctioned Persons, certain investors may not wish to invest or may divest their investment in us, certain financial institutions may not wish to lend, extend credit or offer ordinary banking services to us, or seek early repayment of loans made to us, and certain financial institutions and other businesses with which we partner or may partner may seek to avoid business relationships with us. These divestment initiatives and terminations of business services may negatively impact our reputation, business and results of operations, and may materially and adversely affect the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
We are subject to a broad range of laws and regulations, and future laws and regulations may impose additional requirements and other obligations that could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations, as well as the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
The industries in which we operate, including online and mobile commerce, local consumer services, logistics, cloud computing, digital media and entertainment and other online content offerings, as well as certain of our important business processes, including those that may be deemed as relating to payment and settlement of funds, are subject to government regulations in the PRC and other countries. These requirements may include requirements or restrictions relating to, among other things, the provision of certain regulated products or services through platforms, new and additional licenses, permits and approvals, renewals and amendments of licenses, or governance or ownership structures. Failure to obtain and maintain such required licenses or approvals may require us to adjust our business practices, increase our costs or subject us to fines, which materially and adversely affect our business and the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
We are subject to regulations in a wide range of areas, including, among others, anti-monopoly and anti-unfair competition, privacy and data protection and content. See “—Claims or regulatory actions under competition laws against us may result in our being subject to fines, constraints on our business and damage to our reputation.”; “— Our business is subject to complex and evolving domestic and international laws and regulations regarding privacy and data protection. These laws and regulations can be complex and stringent, and many are subject to change and uncertain interpretation, which could result in claims, changes to our data and other business practices, regulatory investigations, litigation, penalties, increased cost of operations, or declines in user growth or engagement, or otherwise affect our business.”; and “— We may be subject to liability for content available in our ecosystem that is alleged to be obscene, defamatory, libelous, socially destabilizing or otherwise unlawful.”
In particular, regulators in the PRC and other countries are increasingly focused on regulating digital platforms. For example, the PRC E-commerce Law, or the E-commerce Law, and the Measures for the Supervision and Administration of Online Trading, or the Online Trading Measures, impose a series of requirements on e-commerce platform operators, including requiring e-commerce platform operators to verify and update each merchant’s profile on a regular basis and monitor their market participant registration status. Other laws also impose obligations and limitations on online platform operators, including among others, taking measures to prevent and stop false and illegal advertisements and marketing information, improving technical measures for discovering and dealing with illegal or criminal activities on the platforms, and limiting an e-commerce platform operator’s ability to provide consumers with personalized shopping recommendations.
Large-scale Internet platforms, including us, are subject to more responsibilities and obligations than smaller platforms. For example, the draft Guidelines for Implementing Subject Responsibilities of Internet Platforms, or the Responsibilities Guidelines, set forth additional responsibilities for operators of super platforms, as defined in the draft Guidelines for Classification and Grading of Internet Platforms, or the Draft Classification Guidelines. These additional responsibilities include promoting interoperability between the services they provide and those provided by other platforms. The above guidelines have not been formally adopted, and substantial uncertainties still exist with respect to the enactment timetable, final content, interpretation and implementation of these guidelines and how they will affect our business operation. If adopted, certain of our platforms may be deemed as an operator of super platforms under the Classification Guidelines and will need to comply with additional requirements under the Responsibilities Guidelines. These requirements could result in significant additional compliance costs, subject us to higher liabilities or require us to change our business practices. Failure to comply with these requirements may subject us to suspension of business, rectification orders and fines. Due to our size, these guidelines may affect us more than our competitors. For example, certain third-party platforms, although offering products and services competing with our marketplaces, may not be deemed as operators of super platforms or even e-commerce operators and may be subject to less stringent requirements with respect to merchant regulation and consumer protection. Our platform governance measures in response to these requirements may lead to loss of merchants to those platforms, or to complaints or claims made against us by merchants on our platforms.
We face scrutiny and have from time to time been subject, and are likely again in the future to be subject, to inquiries and investigations from both PRC and foreign governments. We may face inquiries and investigations in a wide range of areas, including online content, alleged third-party intellectual property infringement, cybersecurity and privacy laws, competition laws and regulations, securities laws and regulations, cross-border trade, tax, investment activities, human rights, and allegedly fraudulent or other criminal transactions. As we further expand into international markets, we will also increasingly become subject to additional legal and regulatory compliance requirements as well as political and regulatory challenges, including scrutiny on data privacy and security and anti-money laundering compliance, on national security grounds or for other reasons, in foreign countries in which we conduct business or investment activities. Government authorities in the PRC and other countries or regions are likely to continue to issue new laws, rules and regulations and enhance enforcement of existing laws, rules and regulations in these industries, and the perception that new laws and regulations will be implemented or that more stringent enforcement may be put in place may further negatively impact the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities. Any failure, or perceived failure, by us to comply with such local laws and regulations could result in reputational damages, regulatory investigations, sanctions or court proceedings and subject us to legal liabilities, including criminal liabilities. As we continue to grow in scale and significance, we expect to face increased scrutiny, which will, at a minimum, result in our having to continue to increase our investment in compliance and related capabilities and systems, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We rely on Alipay to conduct substantially all of the payment processing and all of the escrow services on our marketplaces. If services and products provided by Alipay or Ant Group’s other businesses are limited, restricted, curtailed or degraded in any way, or become unavailable to us or our users for any reason, our business may be materially and adversely affected.
Ant Group offers a variety of services and products that have become essential parts of the services and experience we offer to consumers and merchants on our platforms. These services and products are critical to our marketplaces and the development of our ecosystem. In particular, given the significant transaction volume on our platforms, Alipay provides convenient payment processing and escrow services to us on preferential terms. We also leverage the convenience, availability and ease of use of Alipay and Ant Group’s other products and services, such as consumer loans and insurance, to provide high quality experience and services to users, merchants and other participants in our ecosystem. If the availability, quality, utility, convenience or attractiveness of Alipay’s and Ant Group’s other services and products declines or changes for commercial, regulatory, compliance or any other reason, the attractiveness of our marketplaces and the level of activities on our marketplaces could be materially and adversely affected.
Particularly, Alipay’s business is subject to a number of risks that could materially and adversely affect its ability to provide payment processing and escrow services to us, including:
|●||dissatisfaction with Alipay’s services or lower use of Alipay by consumers, merchants, brands and retailers;|
|●||increasing competition, including from other established Chinese Internet companies, payment service providers and companies engaged in other financial technology services;|
|●||changes to rules or practices applicable to payment systems that link to Alipay;|
|●||breach of users’ privacy and concerns over the use and security of information collected from customers and any related negative publicity relating thereto;|
|●||service outages, system failures or failure to effectively scale the system to handle large and growing transaction volumes;|
|●||increasing costs to Alipay, including fees charged by banks to process transactions through Alipay, which would also increase our cost of revenues;|
|●||negative news about and social media coverage on Alipay, its business, its product and service offerings or matters relating to Alipay’s data security and privacy; and|
|●||failure to manage user funds accurately or loss of user funds, whether due to employee fraud, security breaches, technical errors or otherwise.|
In addition, certain commercial banks in China impose limits on the amounts that may be transferred by automated payment from users’ bank accounts to their linked accounts with third-party payment services. Although we believe the impact of these restrictions has not been and will not be significant in terms of the overall volume of payments processed for Taobao and Tmall, and automated payment services linked to bank accounts represent only one of many payment mechanisms that consumers may use to settle transactions, we cannot predict whether these and any additional restrictions that could be put in place would have a material adverse effect on our marketplaces.
Alipay’s and Ant Group’s other businesses are highly regulated and are required to comply with numerous complex and evolving laws, rules and regulations, including in the areas of online and mobile payment services, wealth management, financing and insurance. As Alipay and Ant Group’s other businesses expand their businesses and operations into more international markets, they will become subject to additional legal and regulatory risks and scrutiny. For example, Alipay or Ant Group’s other affiliates are required to maintain payment business licenses in the PRC and are also required to obtain and maintain other applicable payment, money transmitter or other related licenses and approvals in other countries or regions where they operate. In certain jurisdictions where Ant Group currently does not have the required licenses, Ant Group provides payment processing and escrow services through third-party service providers. If Ant Group or any of its partners fails to obtain and maintain all required licenses and approvals or otherwise fails to manage the risks relating to their businesses, if new laws, rules or regulations come into effect that impact Ant Group or its partners’ businesses, or if any of Ant Group’s partners ceases to provide services to Ant Group, its services could be suspended or severely disrupted, and its ability to continue to deliver payment services to us on preferential terms and other services and products to our consumers, merchants and other ecosystem participants may be undermined. Furthermore, our commercial arrangements with Alipay and Ant Group may be subject to anti-competition challenges.
If we needed to migrate to another third-party payment service or significantly expand our relationship with other third-party payment services, the transition would require significant time and management resources, and the third-party payment service may not be as effective, efficient or well-received by consumers, merchants, brands and retailers on our marketplaces. These third-party payment services also may not provide escrow services, and we may not be able to receive commissions based on GMV settled through these systems. We would also receive less, or lose entirely, the benefit of the commercial agreement with Ant Group and Alipay and may be required to pay more for payment processing and escrow services than we currently pay. There can be no assurance that we would be able to reach an agreement with an alternative payment service provider on acceptable terms or at all, and our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Ant Group, which provides payment processing services as well as facilitates other financial and value-added services, is subject to a broad range of evolving laws and regulations, and additional requirements and other obligations imposed on Ant Group could materially and adversely affect our business and the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
Ant Group, in which we hold a 33% equity interest, provides payment processing services on our platforms as well as facilitates other financial and value-added services, such as digital payment, wealth management, micro financing and insurance services. Ant Group is subject to various laws, rules and regulations in the PRC and other countries where it operates, including those governing payment, micro financing, privacy, cross-border money transmission, anti-money laundering, counter-terrorist financing and consumer protection laws, rules and regulations. These laws, rules and regulations are highly complex, constantly evolving and could change or be reinterpreted to be burdensome, difficult or impossible for Ant Group to comply with.
PRC regulators have enhanced their scrutiny over financial technology, or fintech, businesses, and have proposed or promulgated several new measures and rules to strengthen regulations over certain financial industries in which Ant Group operates, such as digital payment, wealth management, micro financing and insurance. See “— We rely on Alipay to conduct substantially all of the payment processing and all of the escrow services on our marketplaces. If services and products provided by Alipay or Ant Group’s other businesses are limited, restricted, curtailed or degraded in any way, or become unavailable to us or our users for any reason, our business may be materially and adversely affected.” Recently, Ant Group has also been in discussions with PRC regulators about its business. Following a meeting held by PRC financial regulators with Ant Group in December 2020, Ant Group announced that it would establish a rectification working group and bring the operation and development of its finance-related businesses in line with regulatory requirements raised at the meeting. On April 12, 2021, after a meeting with PRC financial regulators, Ant Group announced that under the regulators’ guidance, and in accordance with regulatory requirements, Ant Group had completed the formulation of its rectification plan, according to which Ant Group would apply to set up a financial holding company to ensure its financial-related businesses are fully regulated. To implement the rectification plan and comply with applicable new measures and rules, Ant Group may be required to spend significant time and resources and make changes to its businesses. As a result of regulatory developments, Ant Group’s business operations and growth prospects could be materially and adversely affected. Rectification and other regulatory requirements placed on Ant Group could in turn have a material adverse effect on us and the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
Moreover, because of our equity interest in and close association with Ant Group and overlapping user bases, regulatory developments, litigation or proceedings, media and other reports, whether or not true, and other events that affect Ant Group could also negatively affect customers’, regulators’, investors’ and other third parties’ perception of us. For example, shortly after Ant Group’s announcement of the suspension of its proposed dual-listing and initial public offering in November 2020, the trading prices of our ADSs and Shares declined significantly. Changes in Ant Group’s business and future prospects for any reason, or speculation of such changes, may have a negative impact on our business and continue to materially and adversely affect the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
Claims or regulatory actions under competition laws against us may result in our being subject to fines, constraints on our business and damage to our reputation.
In recent years, the PRC government has stepped up enforcement against concentration of undertakings, cartel activities, monopoly agreements, unfair pricing, abusive behaviors by companies with market dominance and other anti-competitive activities. In December 2020, the PRC central government announced that strengthening anti-monopoly measures and preventing the disorderly expansion of capital has become one of its focuses in 2021, and the government targets to improve digital regulations and legal standards for the identification of platform enterprise monopolies, for the gathering, usage and management of data, and for the protection of consumer rights.
The PRC government is enhancing its anti-monopoly and anti-unfair competition laws and regulations, such as the Online Trading Measures which took effect on May 1, 2021 and the amended Anti-monopoly Law, which will come into effect on August 1, 2022 and will impose liabilities on cartel facilitators who aid others in the summation of anti-competitive agreements and prohibits platform operators with market dominance from favorable treatment of self-operated business. Such laws and regulations:
|●||provide guidelines for the implementation of anti-monopoly and anti-unfair competition laws and regulations, including prohibition against the abuse of dominant market positions, especially in terms of favorable treatment of self-operated business, unreasonable restrictions on transactions, price manipulation, interference with merchants’ independent business operations, false or misleading marketing and the use of technical means to disrupt the normal operations of network products or services legally provided by other business operators and details of the review of concentration of undertakings;|
|●||strengthen enforcement of anti-monopoly and anti-unfair competition laws and regulations, including the regulation of monopolistic behaviors and monopoly agreements and price-related violations, such as below-cost pricing, price discrimination, manipulation of market prices and fraudulent pricing, as well as supervision of concentration of undertakings; and|
|●||increase legal liabilities, including greater penalties and criminal liabilities, for violations of anti-monopoly and anti-unfair competition laws and regulations.|
See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulation of Monopoly and Unfair Competition,” “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation —Regulation of Online and Mobile Commerce” and “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulation of Pricing.”
The SAMR, together with certain other PRC government authorities have been active in their oversight, including convening several administrative guidance meetings, focusing on the unfair competition acts in community group buying, the self-inspection and rectification by major Internet companies of possible violations of anti-monopoly, anti-unfair competition, data security, consumer protection, tax and other related laws and regulations, as well as the establishment of long-term mechanisms for fair market competition in the sharing consumption industry. While we have conducted self-inspections and undergone self-rectifications, we may still make further changes to our business practices, which may increase our compliance costs and adversely affect our business performance.
To comply with existing laws and regulations and new laws and regulations that may be enacted in the future, as well as administrative guidance and requirements by regulators from time to time, we may need to devote significant resources and efforts, including changing our business and pricing practices, restructuring our businesses and adjusting our investment activities, which may materially and adversely affect our business, growth prospects, reputation and the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities. We may also be subject to regulatory investigations, fines and other penalties, which could materially and adversely affect our business and reputation. The consequences of violating anti-monopoly and anti-unfair competition laws and regulations could be significant, including, for example, fines of up to 10% of revenue, suspension of business and revocation of business licenses. Due to the expansive scope of business activities the anti-monopoly and anti-unfair competition laws and regulations target to regulate, many of our businesses and practices, including our business models, pricing practices, promotional activities and cooperation with business partners, may be subject to regulatory scrutiny and significant penalties. Certain long-standing practices, such as our cross-platform user ID system, our traffic allocation approach and the manners in which we offer payment, logistics and other services to consumers may be subject to challenges by regulators, consumers, merchants and other parties. On December 24, 2020, the SAMR commenced an investigation on us pursuant to the PRC Anti-monopoly Law. Following the investigation, on April 10, 2021, the SAMR issued an administrative penalty decision finding that we violated provisions of the PRC Anti-monopoly Law prohibiting a business operator with a dominant market position from restricting business counterparties through exclusive arrangements without justifiable cause, and imposed a fine of RMB18.2 billion. The SAMR also issued an administrative guidance, instructing us to implement a comprehensive rectification program, and to file a self-assessment and compliance report to the SAMR for three consecutive years. In addition, the SAMR has imposed and in the future may further impose administrative penalties on various companies including us for failing to duly make filings as to their transactions subject to merger control review by the SAMR. See “— PRC regulations regarding acquisitions impose significant regulatory approval and review requirements, which could make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions and subject us to fines or other administrative penalties.”
The PRC Anti-monopoly Law and Anti-unfair Competition Law also provide a private right of action for competitors, business partners or customers to bring anti-monopoly and anti-unfair competition claims against companies. In recent years, an increased number of companies have been exercising their right to seek relief under the PRC Anti-monopoly Law, Anti-unfair Competition Law and related judicial interpretations. Some of these companies, including our competitors, business partners and customers, have resorted to and may continue making public allegations or launching media campaigns against us, submitting complaints to regulators or initiating private litigation that targets our and our business partners’ prior and current business practices, such as our market approach with traffic resource allocation on our e-commerce platforms, which we base on multiple factors, and our alleged prior narrowly-deployed exclusive partnerships. For example, another e-commerce player in China has brought suit against us under the PRC Anti-monopoly Law in connection with such alleged exclusive partnership arrangements and is claiming a substantial amount of damages, and there may be other similar litigation in the future. See “Item 8. Financial Information — A. Consolidated Statements and Other Financial Information — Legal and Administrative Proceedings — JD.com Lawsuit.” In the wake of the April 2021 SAMR administrative penalty decision, there may be other similar litigation in the future, and we may face increased challenges in defending ourselves in existing and future lawsuits brought against us pursuant to the PRC Anti-monopoly Law.
Allegations, claims, investigations, regulatory interviews, unannounced inspections, or other actions or proceedings under the anti-monopoly and anti-unfair competition laws and regulations, regardless of their merits, have caused, and may continue to cause, us to be subject to regulatory actions, such as profit disgorgement and heavy fines, significant amounts of damage payments or settlements, and constraints on our investments and acquisitions. We may be required to make further changes to some of our business practices and divest certain businesses, which could decrease the popularity of our businesses, products and services and cause our revenue and net income to decrease materially. Any of the above circumstances could materially and adversely affect our business, operations, reputation, brand, the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
PRC regulations regarding acquisitions impose significant regulatory approval and review requirements, which could make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions and subject us to fines or other administrative penalties.
Under the PRC Anti-monopoly Law, companies undertaking certain investments and acquisitions relating to businesses in China must notify and obtain approval from the SAMR, before completing any transaction where the parties’ revenues in China exceed certain thresholds and the buyer would obtain control of, or decisive influence over, the other party or any transaction that would otherwise trigger merger control filing obligations. The SAMR, the Cyberspace Administration of China and other regulatory agencies in China are enhancing merger control review in key areas, including national interest and people’s livelihood, finance, technology and media. On August 8, 2006, six PRC regulatory agencies, including the MOFCOM, the SASAC, the STA, the SAIC, the CSRC, and the SAFE, jointly adopted the M&A Rules, which came into effect on September 8, 2006 and were amended on June 22, 2009. Under the M&A Rules, the approval of MOFCOM must be obtained in circumstances where overseas companies established or controlled by PRC enterprises or residents acquire domestic companies affiliated with PRC enterprises or residents. Applicable PRC laws, rules and regulations also require certain merger and acquisition transactions to be subject to security review.
Under the currently effective PRC Anti-monopoly Law, due to the level of our revenues, our proposed acquisition of control of, or decisive influence over, any company with revenues within China of more than RMB400 million in the year prior to any proposed acquisition, would be subject to SAMR merger control review. In addition, a proposed transaction would be subject to SAMR merger control review if we have joint control of or joint decisive influence over any company with another party and where such other party has revenues within China of more than RMB400 million in the year prior to such transaction. Many of the transactions we undertook and may undertake could be subject to SAMR merger review. We have been fined, and expect to be subject to additional fines, which may be significant, for failing to obtain merger control approval for past acquisitions. Under the PRC Anti-monopoly Law, we may also be required to make divestitures or be subject to limitations on our business practices and other administrative penalties if regulators determine that we have failed to obtain the required approvals in relation to investments and acquisitions, which could materially and adversely affect our business operations and financial results as well as the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
The Provisions of the State Council of the PRC on the Thresholds for Filing of Concentration of Undertakings (Revised Draft for Public Comments) issued by the SAMR on June 27, 2022 propose to significantly raise the filing thresholds with respect to revenue, but at the same time subjecting certain transactions that do not meet the revenue threshold to filing obligations. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulation of Monopoly and Unfair Competition.” If adopted in current form, these provisions may subject transactions involving significant undertaking and between one party with large revenue, like us, and start-up enterprises, to filing obligations. Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the enactment timetable, final content, interpretation and implementation of such draft provisions. The amended PRC Anti-monopoly Law, which will become effective on August 1, 2022, significantly raises the maximum fines for failure to file for merger control review, and introduces a “stop-clock mechanism” which may prolong the merger control review process. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulation of Monopoly and Unfair Competition.” Complying with the requirements of the relevant regulations to complete these transactions could be time-consuming, and any required approval processes, including approval from SAMR, may be uncertain and could delay or inhibit our ability to complete these transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business maintain our market share or otherwise achieve the goals of our acquisition strategy.
According to the Regulations on Enterprise Outbound Investment issued by the NDRC in December 2017, which came into effect on March 1, 2018, we may also need to report to the NDRC relevant information on overseas investments with an amount of US$300 million or more in non-sensitive areas, and obtain the NDRC’s approval for our overseas investments in sensitive areas, if any, before the closing of the investments. According to the Draft Overseas Listing Regulations, if a Chinese overseas listed company issues overseas listed securities to acquire assets, such issuance would be subject to filing requirements. See “— There are uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations, and changes in policies, laws, rules and regulations in the PRC could adversely affect us.” Accordingly, these regulations may restrict our ability to make investments in some regions and industries overseas, and may subject any proposed investments to additional delays and increased uncertainty, as well as heightened scrutiny, including after the investments have been made.
Our ability to carry out our investment and acquisition strategy may be materially and adversely affected due to significant regulatory uncertainty as to the timing of receipt of relevant approvals or completion of relevant filings and whether transactions that we may undertake would subject us to fines or other administrative penalties and negative publicity and whether we will be able to complete investments and acquisitions in the future in a timely manner or at all.
Our business and technologies generate and process a large amount of data, including personal data, and the improper use or disclosure of data could result in regulatory investigations and penalties, and harm our reputation and have a material adverse effect on the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities, our business and our prospects.
Our business and technologies generate and process a large quantity of personal data. Our privacy policies concerning the collection, use and disclosure of personal data are posted on our platforms. We face risks inherent in handling and protecting large volumes of data, especially consumer data. In particular, we face a number of challenges relating to data from transactions and other activities on our platforms, including:
|●||protecting the data in and hosted on our system, including against attacks on our system or unauthorized use by outside parties or fraudulent behavior or improper use by our employees;|
|●||addressing concerns, challenges, negative publicity and litigation related to data privacy, collection, use and actual or perceived sharing for promotional and other purposes (including cooperation and sharing among our own businesses, cooperation with business partners or mandatory disclosure to regulators), and concerns among the public about the alleged discriminatory treatment adopted by Internet platforms based on user profile, safety, security and other factors that may arise from our existing businesses or new businesses and technologies, such as new forms of data (for example, biometric data, location information and other demographic information); and|
|●||complying with applicable laws, rules and regulations relating to the collection (from users and other third-party systems or sources), use, storage, transfer, disclosure and security of personal data, including requests from data subjects and regulatory and government authorities.|
These challenges are heightened as we expand our business into jurisdictions with different legal and regulatory regimes, such as the GDPR and the data localization rules to the Federal Law on Personal Data of Russia. There have been a number of reports on and litigation relating to incidents relating to data security and unauthorized use of user data by high-profile Internet and technology companies and their business partners. If our user data is improperly used or disclosed by any party, or if we were to be found in violation of any data-related laws, rules or regulations, including those relating to collection and use of user data, it could result in a loss of users, businesses and other participants from our ecosystem, suspension of service or blockage of access to mobile app services, loss of confidence or trust in our platforms, litigation, regulatory investigations, significant amounts of penalties or actions against us, significant damage to our reputation or even criminal liabilities, and have a material adverse effect on the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities, our business and prospects.
As permitted by our privacy policies and user agreements, we grant expressly limited access to specified data on our data platform to certain participants in our ecosystem that provide services to consumers, merchants, brands, retailers and other ecosystem participants. In addition, following the termination of data sharing agreement with Ant Group in July 2022, we and Ant Group will, to the extent necessary for each party to provide services to our respective customers, negotiate the terms of data sharing arrangements on a case-by-case basis and as permitted by applicable laws and regulations. Participants in our ecosystem, including Ant Group, face the same challenges inherent in handling and protecting large volumes of data. Any actual or perceived improper use of data by us or them, and any systems failure or security breach or lapse on our or their part that results in the release of user data could harm our reputation and brand and, consequently, our business, in addition to exposing us to potential legal liability or regulatory actions. This could also attract negative publicity from media outlets, privacy advocates, our competitors or others and could adversely affect the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
Our business is subject to complex and evolving domestic and international laws and regulations regarding privacy and data protection. These laws and regulations can be complex and stringent, and many are subject to change and uncertain interpretation, which could result in claims, changes to our data and other business practices, regulatory investigations, litigation, penalties, increased cost of operations, or declines in user growth or engagement, or otherwise affect our business.
Regulatory authorities in China and around the world have recently implemented, and may in the future continue to implement, further legislative and regulatory proposals concerning privacy and data protection, including particularly relating to the protection of personal information and cross-border data transmission, which could impose more stringent requirements on us. In addition, the interpretation and application of data protection laws are often uncertain, in flux and complicated. It is possible that existing or newly introduced laws and regulations, or their interpretation, application or enforcement, could significantly affect the value of our data, force us to change our data collection, data use and other business practices, cause us to incur significant compliance costs, and subject us to regulatory investigations, fines, suspension of businesses and revocation of licenses.
PRC regulatory authorities have increasingly focused on personal data and privacy protection, and promulgated a number of laws and regulations overseeing the collection and processing of personal information, including the Personal Information Protection Law and the Provisions on the Scope of Necessary Personal Information Required for Common Types of Mobile Internet Applications. These laws and regulations stipulate that (i) collection of personal information should be limited to the minimum scope necessary for achieving the processing purpose, in particular, mobile apps operators may not deny users’ basic functions and services when they opt out of the collection of unnecessary personal information, (ii) processing of personal information must be conducted with a specified and reasonable intention that is directly related to the processing purpose and in a manner that has the least impact on personal rights and interests, and (iii) entities handling personal information shall adopt necessary measures to safeguard the security of the personal information they handle. In addition, the Personal Information Protection Law requires information processors to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information of minors under the age of 14, and to adopt special rules on processing personal information of minors. Information processors are subject to liabilities for their information collection and processing activities, including correction, suspension or termination of their services as well as confiscation of illegal income, significant fines of up to 5% of revenue or other penalties. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulation of Data and Privacy Protection.” The Cyberspace Administration of China has named a number of mobile apps, including some of ours, in regulatory announcements for failure to comply with privacy and data security regulations, and ordered these apps to rectify their data collection and use practices. Moreover, PRC regulatory authorities have also enhanced their regulation on algorithm recommendation services. According to the Administrative Provisions on Internet Information Service Algorithm Recommendation, or the Algorithm Recommendation Provisions, which came into effect on March 1, 2022, algorithm recommendation service providers shall clearly inform users of their provision of algorithm recommendation services, and make public the basic principles, intentions, and main operating mechanisms of the algorithm recommendation services. Algorithm recommendation service providers selling goods or providing services to consumers shall also protect consumers’ rights of fair trade, and are prohibited from carrying out illegal conduct such as unreasonable differentiated treatment based on consumers’ preferences, purchase behavior, or such other characteristics. In the course of our business operations, we collect information of our customers and users, including personal information, and algorithmic recommendation service is extensively used in our business. Any failure to comply with laws and regulations relevant to personal data and privacy may result in administrative liabilities, including warnings, public denouncement, fines, enforcement orders requiring us to correct, or suspending us from posting new information, suspension of business or even criminal liabilities.
PRC regulatory authorities have also stepped up efforts in safeguarding cybersecurity through conducting cybersecurity reviews. The PRC Cybersecurity Law provides that personal information and important data collected and generated by operators of critical information infrastructure in the course of their operations in the PRC should be stored in the PRC, and the law imposes heightened regulation and additional security obligations on operators of critical information infrastructure. According to the Revised Cybersecurity Review Measures, which became effective in February 2022, operators of critical information infrastructure who purchase network products and services and network platform operators who carry out data processing activities that affect or may affect national security shall be subject to cybersecurity review. Relevant PRC governmental authorities may also initiate cybersecurity review if they determine certain network products, services, or data processing activities affect or may affect national security. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulation of Internet Security.” However, the scope of “network products or services or data processing activities that will or may affect national security” and the scope of operators of “critical information infrastructure” remain unclear. In 2021, the PRC government launched cybersecurity reviews against a number of mobile apps operated by several US-listed Chinese companies and prohibited relevant apps from registering new users during the review period. We expect that these areas will receive greater and continued attention and scrutiny from regulators and the public going forward, which could increase our compliance costs and subject us to heightened risks and challenges associated with data security and protection, as well as negative publicity. If we are unable to manage these risks, we could become subject to penalties, including fines, suspension of business, prohibition against new user registration (even for a short period of time) and revocation of required licenses, and our reputation and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected. Moreover, in November 2021, the Cybersecurity Administration of China promulgated Draft Regulations on Network Data Security Management, or the Draft Cyber Data Security Regulations, for public comments, which set forth different scenarios where data processors shall apply for cybersecurity review, including, among others, (i) merger, reorganization or division of Internet platform operators with significant data resources related to national security, economic development or public interests that affects or may affect national security; (ii) overseas listing while processing over one million users’ personal information; (iii) Hong Kong listing that affects or may affect national security; or (iv) other data processing activities that affect or may affect national security. In addition, data policies and rules and any material amendments thereof of large Internet platforms with over 100 million daily active users shall be evaluated by a third-party organization designated by the Cyberspace Administration of China and approved by the respective local branch of the Cyberspace Administration of China. There is no definite timetable as to when this draft will be enacted. As such, substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the enactment timetable, final content, interpretation and implementation of such measures.
PRC regulatory authorities have also enhanced the supervision and regulation of cross-border data transmission. The Data Security Law which took effect in September 2021 prohibits entities and individuals in China from providing any foreign judicial or law enforcement authority with any data stored in China without approval from competent PRC authority, and sets forth the legal liabilities of entities and individuals found to be in violation of their data protection obligations, including rectification order, warning, fines, suspension of relevant business, and revocation of business permits or licenses. Moreover, on July 7, 2022, the Cybersecurity Administration of China promulgated the Measures for the Security Assessment of Cross-border Data Transmission, which will come into effect on September 1, 2022. According to these measures, personal data processors will be subject to security assessment conducted by the Cyberspace Administration of China prior to any cross-border transfer of data if the transfer involves (i) important data; (ii) personal information transferred overseas by operators of critical information infrastructure or a data processor that has processed personal data of more than one million persons; (iii) personal information transferred overseas by a data processor who has already provided personal data of 100,000 persons or sensitive personal data of 10,000 persons overseas since January 1 of last year; or (iv) other circumstances as requested by the Cyberspace Administration of China. According to the official interpretation of the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Measures for the Security Assessment of Cross-border Data Transmission cover (1) overseas transmission and storage by data processors of data generated during PRC domestic operations, and (2) access to or use of the data collected and generated by data processors and stored in the PRC by overseas institutions, organizations or individuals. Furthermore, any cross-border data transfer activities conducted in violation of the Measures for the Security Assessment of Cross-border Data Transmission before the effectiveness of these measures are required to be rectified by March 2023. As of the date of this annual report, these measures have not taken effect, and substantial uncertainties still exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of these measures in practice and how they will affect our business operation.
In addition, regulators in China and other jurisdictions in which we operate may implement measures to ensure that encryption of user data does not hinder law enforcement agencies’ access to that data. For example, according to the PRC Cybersecurity Law and relevant regulations, network operators, including us, are obligated to provide assistance and support in accordance with the law for public security and national security authorities to protect national security or assist with criminal investigations. Compliance with these laws and requirements in manners that are perceived as harming privacy could lead to significant damages to our reputation and proceedings and actions against us by regulators and private parties.
Compliance with the PRC Cybersecurity Law, the PRC National Security Law, the Data Security Law, the Personal Information Protection Law, the Cybersecurity Review Measures, as well as additional laws and regulations that may come into effect in the future, including the Measures for the Security Assessment of Cross-border Data Transmission, the Draft Cyber Data Security Regulations and other data security and personal information protection laws and regulations, may result in significant increase in our compliance costs, force us to change our business practices, adversely affect our business performance as well as subject us to negative publicity, which could harm our reputation among users and negatively affect the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities. As many of these laws and regulations have not come into effect yet, or only came to effect recently, there are uncertainties with respect to how they will be interpreted, implemented and enforced in practice, and we may be subject to regulatory investigations, fines, suspension of businesses and revocation of licenses.
As we further expand our operations into international markets, we will be subject to additional laws in other jurisdictions where we operate and where our consumers, users, merchants, customers and other participants are located. For example, the European Commission has proposed the Digital Markets Act, the Digital Service Act and the European Data Act since 2020, which impose various requirements on data use, data sharing and data protection. Such laws, rules and regulations of other jurisdictions may be more comprehensive, detailed and nuanced in their scope, and may impose requirements and penalties that conflict with, or are more stringent than, those in China. In addition, these laws, rules and regulations may restrict the transfer of data across jurisdictions, which could impose additional and substantial operational, administrative and compliance burdens on us, and may also restrict our business activities and expansion plans, as well as impede our data-driven business strategies. Complying with laws and regulations for an increasing number of jurisdictions could require significant resources and costs. Our continued expansion into cloud services, both in China and elsewhere, will also increase the amount of data hosted on our system, as well as increase the number of jurisdictions in which we have IT systems. This, as well as the increasing number of new legal requirements in various jurisdictions, such as the GDPR and the data localization rules to Federal Law on Personal Data of Russia, present increased challenges and risks in relation to policies and procedures relating to data collection, storage, transfer, disclosure, protection and privacy, and will impose significant penalties for non-compliance. For example, penalties calculated as a percentage of global revenue may be imposed under the GDPR. The compliance requirements of the GDPR affect a number of our businesses, such as AliExpress and Alibaba Cloud. Any failure, or perceived failure, by us to comply with the above and other applicable regulatory requirements or privacy protection-related laws, rules and regulations could result in reputational damages or proceedings or actions against us by governmental entities, consumers or others. These proceedings or actions could subject us to significant penalties and negative publicity, require us to change our data and other business practices, increase our costs and severely disrupt our business, hinder our global expansion or negatively affect the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
Security breaches and attacks against our systems and network, and any potentially resulting breach or failure to otherwise protect personal, confidential and proprietary information, could damage our reputation and negatively impact our business, as well as materially and adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
Our cybersecurity measures may not detect, prevent or control all attempts to compromise our systems or risks to our systems, including distributed denial-of-service attacks, viruses, Trojan horses, malicious software, break-ins, phishing attacks, third-party manipulation, security breaches, employee misconduct or negligence or other attacks, risks, data leakage and similar disruptions that may jeopardize the security of data stored in and transmitted by our systems or that we otherwise maintain. Moreover, if we fail to implement adequate encryption of data transmitted through the networks of the telecommunications and Internet operators we rely upon, there is a risk that telecommunications and Internet operators or their business partners may misappropriate our data. Breaches or failures of our cybersecurity measures could result in unauthorized access to our systems, misappropriation of information or data, deletion or modification of user information, or denial-of-service or other interruptions to our business operations. If the security of domain names is compromised, we will be unable to use the domain names in our business operations.
We may not have the resources or technical sophistication to anticipate or prevent rapidly evolving cyber-attacks. As techniques used to obtain unauthorized access to or sabotage systems change frequently and may not be known until launched against us, there can be no assurance that we will be able to anticipate, or implement adequate measures to protect against, these attacks. We could also be subject to an attack, breach or leakage, which we do not discover at the time or the consequences of which are not apparent until a later point in time. We only carry limited cybersecurity insurance, and actual or anticipated attacks and risks may cause us to incur significantly higher costs, including costs to deploy additional personnel and network protection technologies, train employees, and engage third-party experts and consultants.
Cyber-attacks may target us, our merchants, consumers, users, customers, key service providers or other participants in our ecosystem, or the communication infrastructure on which we depend. In particular, breaches or failures of our third-party service providers’ systems and cybersecurity measures could also result in unauthorized access to our data and user information. In addition, we develop systems for customers through our cloud or other services. If these systems suffer attacks, breaches and data leakage, whether or not we are involved in managing or operating such systems, we could be subject to negative publicity, potential liabilities and regulatory investigations, including extensive cybersecurity review, which could result in significant losses to us, and materially and adversely affect our reputation, business growth and prospects. We, our third-party service providers and customers that use systems we have developed have been in the past and are likely again in the future to be subject to these types of attacks, breaches and data leakage. For example, in October 2020, Lazada reported a data breach of a legacy RedMart database hosted by a third-party service provider, which resulted in the leakage of certain personal information of 1.1 million RedMart user accounts. Further, in May 2021, a court in China ruled in a criminal case that a software developer illegally collected approximately 1.2 billion pieces of user log-in IDs, alias and phone numbers from the Taobao website using a web crawler, which we discovered and reported to law enforcement in August 2020.
Cyber-attacks and security breaches, whether or not related to our systems or attributable to us, could subject us to negative publicity, regulatory investigations and significant legal and financial liability, harm our reputation and result in substantial revenue loss from lost sales and customer dissatisfaction, materially decrease our revenue and net income, and negatively affect the trading prices of our ADSs and Shares.
Failure to maintain or improve our technology infrastructure could harm our business and prospects.
We are continuously upgrading our platforms to provide increased scale, improved performance, additional capacity and additional built-in functionality, including functionality related to security. Adopting new products and maintaining and upgrading our technology infrastructure require significant investments of time and resources. Any failure to maintain and improve our technology infrastructure could result in unanticipated system disruptions, slower response times, impaired user experience and delays in reporting accurate operating and financial information. The risks of these events occurring are even higher during certain periods of peak usage and activity, such as on or around the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival or other promotional events, when user activity and the number of transactions are significantly higher on our marketplaces compared to other days of the year. In addition, much of the software and interfaces we use are internally developed and proprietary technology. If we experience problems with the functionality and effectiveness of our software, interfaces or platforms, or are unable to maintain and continuously improve our technology infrastructure to handle our business needs, our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects, as well as our reputation and brand, could be materially and adversely affected.
In addition, our technology infrastructure and services, including our cloud product and service offerings, incorporate third-party-developed software, systems and technologies, as well as hardware purchased or commissioned from third-party and overseas suppliers. As our technology infrastructure and services expand and become increasingly complex, we face increasingly serious risks to the performance and security of our technology infrastructure and services that may be caused by these third-party-developed components, including risks relating to incompatibilities with these components, service failures or delays or difficulties in integrating back-end procedures on hardware and software. We also need to continuously enhance our existing technology. Otherwise, we face the risk of our technology infrastructure becoming unstable and susceptible to security breaches. This instability or susceptibility could create serious challenges to the security and operation of our platforms and services, which would materially and adversely affect our business and reputation.
The successful operation of our business depends upon the performance, reliability and security of the Internet infrastructure in China and other countries in which we operate.
Our business depends on the performance, reliability and security of the telecommunications and Internet infrastructure in China and other countries in which we operate. Substantially all of our computer hardware and a majority of our cloud computing services are currently located in China. Almost all access to the Internet in China is maintained through state-owned telecommunication operators under the administrative control and regulatory supervision of the MIIT. In addition, the national networks in China are connected to the Internet through state-owned international gateways, which are the only channels through which a domestic user can connect to the Internet outside of China. We may face similar or other limitations in other countries in which we operate. We may not have access to alternative networks in the event of disruptions, failures or other problems with the Internet infrastructure in China or elsewhere. In addition, the Internet infrastructure in the countries in which we operate may not support the demands associated with continued growth in Internet usage.
The failure of telecommunications network operators to provide us with the requisite bandwidth could also interfere with the speed and availability of our websites and mobile apps. We have no control over the costs of the services provided by the telecommunications operators. If the prices that we pay for telecommunications and Internet services rise significantly, our margins could be adversely affected and the development and growth of our business could also be materially and adversely affected. In addition, if Internet access fees or other charges to Internet users increase, our user base may decrease, which in turn may significantly decrease our revenues.
Our ecosystem could be disrupted by network interruptions.
Our ecosystem depends on the efficient and uninterrupted operation of our computer and communications systems. System interruptions and delays may prevent us from efficiently processing the large volume of transactions on our marketplaces and other businesses we operate. In addition, a large number of merchants and customers maintain their important systems, such as ERP and CRM systems, on our cloud computing platform, which contains substantial quantities of data that enable them to operate and manage their businesses. Increasing media and entertainment content on our platforms also requires additional network capacity and infrastructure to process. Consumers expect our media and entertainment content to be readily available online, and any disruptions or delay to the delivery of content could affect the attractiveness and reputation of our media and entertainment platforms.
We and other participants in our ecosystem, including Ant Group, have experienced, and may experience in the future, system interruptions and delays that render websites, mobile apps and services (such as cloud services and payment services) temporarily unavailable or slow to respond. Although we have prepared for contingencies through redundancy measures and disaster recovery plans and also carry business interruption insurance, these preparations and insurance coverage may not be sufficient. Despite any precautions we may take, the occurrence of a natural disaster, including the effects of climate change (such as drought, floods and increased storm severity), or other unanticipated problems at our facilities or the facilities of Ant Group and other participants in our ecosystem, including power outages, system failures, telecommunications delays or failures, construction accidents, break-ins to IT systems, computer viruses or human errors, could result in delays in or temporary outages of our platforms or services, loss of our, consumers’ and customers’ data and business interruption for us and our customers. Any of these events could damage our reputation, significantly disrupt our operations and the operations of the participants in our ecosystem and subject us to liability, heightened regulatory scrutiny and increased costs, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We do not control Alipay or its parent entity, Ant Group, over which Jack Ma effectively controls more than 50% of the voting interests. If conflicts that could arise between us and Alipay or Ant Group are not resolved in our favor, our ecosystem, business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
We rely on Alipay to conduct substantially all of the payment processing and all of the escrow services on our marketplaces. Starting from September 2019, we hold a 33% equity interest in Alipay’s parent, Ant Group, and also have the right to nominate two directors for election to the board of Ant Group. However, we do not hold a majority interest in or control Ant Group or Alipay. Following the 2011 divestment and subsequent equity holding restructuring related to Ant Group, an entity wholly-owned by Jack Ma, our former executive chairman, became the general partner of Junhan and Junao, each a PRC limited partnership, which are two major equity holders of Ant Group. In August 2020, Jack Ma transferred 66% of the equity interest in such general partner entity but retained control over the equity interests in Ant Group held by Junhan and Junao. Through an agreement with the transferees as well as the articles of association of the general partner entity, Jack Ma has control over resolutions passed at general meetings of the general partner entity that relate to the exercise of rights by Junhan and Junao as shareholders of Ant Group. Accordingly, Jack Ma has an economic interest in Ant Group and is able to exercise the voting power of the equity interest in Ant Group held by Junhan and Junao. We understand that through the exercise of his voting power over Junhan and Junao, Jack Ma continues to control more than 50% of the voting interests in Ant Group.
If for any reason, Alipay sought to amend the terms of its agreements and arrangements with us, there can be no assurance that Jack Ma, in light of his control of more than 50% of the voting interests over Alipay’s parent, Ant Group, would exercise his voting interests in a manner that is in our interests. If any of such terms is to be amended to our detriment, our ecosystem could be negatively affected, and our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects could be materially and adversely affected.
Ant Group also facilitates other financial services to participants in our ecosystem, including wealth management, financing (including consumer financing) and insurance, and may offer additional services in the future. Other conflicts of interest between us, on the one hand, and Alipay and Ant Group, on the other hand, may arise relating to commercial or strategic opportunities or initiatives. Although we and Ant Group have each agreed to certain non-competition undertakings, Ant Group may from time to time provide services to our competitors or engage in certain businesses that fall within our scope, and there can be no assurance that Ant Group would not pursue other opportunities that would conflict with our interests. See “Item 7. Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions — B. Related Party Transactions — Agreements and Transactions Related to Ant Group and Its Subsidiaries — Our Commercial Arrangements with Ant Group and Alipay — Restructuring of Our Relationship with Ant Group and Alipay, 2019 Equity Issuance, and Related Amendments — Non-competition Undertakings.” Jack Ma may not resolve these conflicts in a manner that is in our interests. Furthermore, our ability to explore alternative payment services other than Alipay for our marketplaces may be constrained due to Jack Ma’s relationship with Ant Group.
In addition, certain of our employees hold share-based awards granted by Junhan and Ant Group, and certain employees of Ant Group hold share-based awards granted by us. The share-based awards granted by Junhan and Ant Group to our employees result in expenses that are recognized by us, and because of mark-to-market accounting treatment, changes in the fair value of these awards will affect the amount of share-based compensation expense that we recognize. See “Item 7. Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions — B. Related Party Transactions — Agreements and Transactions Related to Ant Group and Its Subsidiaries — Our Commercial Arrangements with Ant Group and Alipay — Share-based Award Arrangements.” Subject to the approval of our audit committee, Junhan and Ant Group could propose and promote other cross-grant arrangements that could result in additional share-based grants, and additional, potentially significant, expenses to us. Conflicts of interest may arise from our management team members’ and other employees’ ownership of interests in Ant Group, which could represent a substantial portion of their personal wealth. Accordingly, these and other potential conflicts of interest between us and Ant Group or Alipay, and between us and Jack Ma or Junhan or Junao, may not be resolved in our favor, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.
In addition, any actual or perceived conflict of interest between us and Ant Group, or any other company integral to the functioning of our ecosystem, could also materially harm our reputation as well as our business and prospects.
We depend on key management as well as experienced and capable personnel generally, and any failure to attract, motivate and retain our staff could severely hinder our ability to maintain and grow our business.
Our future success is significantly dependent upon the continued service of our key executives and other key employees, particularly in new business areas we are expanding into, such as direct sales, consumer services and International commerce. If we lose the services of any member of management or key personnel, we may not be able to locate suitable or qualified replacements, and may incur additional expenses to recruit and train new staff. For example, Jack Ma, our lead founder, who has been crucial to the development of our vision, culture and strategic direction, completed his term as a director of our company in September 2020, and is no longer a member of our board or management team, although he continues to be a partner of the Alibaba Partnership. This and similar retirements and successions could result in disruptions, or perceived disruptions, in our operations and the execution of our strategy.
As our business develops and evolves, it may become difficult for us to continue to retain our employees. A number of our employees, including many members of management, may choose to pursue other opportunities outside of us. If we are unable to motivate or retain these employees, our business may be severely disrupted and our prospects could suffer.
The size and scope of our ecosystem also require us to hire and retain a wide range of capable and experienced personnel who can adapt to a dynamic, competitive and challenging business environment. We will need to continue to attract and retain experienced and capable personnel at all levels, including members of management, as we expand our business and operations. Our various incentive initiatives may not be sufficient to retain our management and employees. Competition for talent in our industry is intense, and the availability of suitable and qualified candidates in China and elsewhere is limited. Competition for these individuals could cause us to offer higher compensation and other benefits to attract and retain them. Even if we were to offer higher compensation and other benefits, there can be no assurance that these individuals will choose to join or continue to work for us. Any failure to attract or retain key management and personnel could severely disrupt our business and growth.
Failure to deal effectively with fraudulent or illegal activities by our employees, business partners or service providers would harm our business.
Illegal, fraudulent, corrupt or collusive activities or misconduct, whether actual or perceived, by our employees, representatives, agents, business partners or service providers could subject us to liability or negative publicity, which could severely damage our brand and reputation. We have a zero-tolerance policy towards fraudulent and illegal conduct, and have dismissed and assisted in the investigations, arrests and prosecutions of employees who engaged such conduct. We have implemented and continue to improve internal controls and policies with regard to the review and approval of merchant accounts, interactions with business partners and government officials, account management, sales activities, data security and other relevant matters. However, there can be no assurance that our controls and policies will prevent fraud, corrupt or illegal activity or misconduct by our employees, representatives, agents, business partners or service providers or that similar incidents will not occur in the future. As we expand our operations in China and other jurisdictions, in particular our businesses that provide services to governments and public institutions, we are subject to additional internal control and compliance requirements relating to corrupt and other illegal practices by our employees, representatives or agents, and we may also be held liable for such misconduct or other misconduct by our business partners and service providers. Alleged or actual failure to comply or ensure our employees, representatives, agents, business partners and service providers to comply with these requirements could subject us to regulatory investigations and liabilities, which would materially and adversely affect our business operations, customer relationships, reputation and the trading price of our shares and ADSs.
If third-party service providers and other participants in our ecosystem fail to provide reliable or satisfactory services or comply with applicable laws or regulations, our reputation, business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Ant Group and a number of other third-party participants, including retail operating partners, logistics service providers, mobile app developers, independent software vendors, or ISVs, cloud-based developers, marketing affiliates, livestreaming hosts and KOLs and various professional service providers, provide services to users on our platforms, including consumers, merchants, brands, retailers and users of our cloud computing services. To the extent these ecosystem participants and service providers are unable to provide satisfactory services to our users on commercially acceptable terms, or at all, or if we fail to retain existing or attract new quality service providers to our platforms, our ability to retain, attract or engage our users may be severely limited, which may have a material and adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. In addition, we share our user data with certain of these third-party service providers in our ecosystem in accordance with our privacy policies, agreements and applicable laws. These third-party service providers and ecosystem participants may engage in a broad range of other business activities on and outside of our platforms, and may have broad user bases and social influence that create substantial business opportunities and economic returns to themselves and our business. If they engage in activities that are negligent, fraudulent, illegal or otherwise harm the trustworthiness and security of our ecosystem, including, for example, the leakage or negligent use of data, the handling, transport and delivery of prohibited or restricted content or items, or if these participants cease their business relationship with us or fail to perform their contractual obligations, fail to comply with any laws, regulations or government requirements, cause any property damage or personal injuries, or users are otherwise dissatisfied with their service quality on or off our platforms, we could suffer loss of business and revenue, reputational harm or regulatory investigations or liabilities, even if these activities are not related to, attributable to or caused by us, or within our control.
If logistics service providers used by our merchants fail to provide reliable logistics services, or the logistics data platform operated by Cainiao were to malfunction, suffer an outage or otherwise fail, our business and prospects, as well as our financial condition and results of operations, may be materially and adversely affected.
Our merchants use third-party logistics service providers as well as Cainiao to fulfill and deliver their orders. Cainiao cooperates with a number of third-party logistics service providers and leverages its proprietary logistics services to help merchants on our platforms fulfill orders and deliver their products to consumers. We operate Cainiao’s logistics data platform that links our information system and those of logistics service providers. Because of our platform model, interruptions to or failures in logistics services, or in Cainiao’s logistics data platform, could prevent the timely or proper delivery of products to consumers, which would negatively impact our competitive position as well as harm the reputation of our ecosystem and the businesses we operate. In addition, certain of our businesses, including Lazada, operate and provide logistics services to merchants within our ecosystem and may experience interruptions or failures to timely and properly deliver products to consumers. These interruptions or failures may be due to events that are beyond the control of any of our companies, Cainiao or these logistics service providers, such as inclement weather, natural disasters including the effects of climate change (such as drought, floods and increased storm severity), the COVID-19 pandemic, other pandemics or epidemics, accidents, transportation disruptions, including special or temporary restrictions or closings of facilities or transportation networks due to regulatory or political reasons, or labor unrest or shortages. These logistics services could also be affected or interrupted by business disputes, industry consolidation, insolvency or government shut-downs. The merchants in our ecosystem may not be able to find alternative logistics service providers to provide logistics services in a timely and reliable manner, or at all. We do not have agreements with third-party logistics service providers that require them to offer services to our merchants. If the logistics data platform operated by Cainiao were to fail for any reason, the logistics service providers would be severely hindered from connecting or unable to connect with our merchants, and their services and the functionality of our ecosystem could be severely affected. If the products sold by merchants in our ecosystem are not delivered in proper condition, on a timely basis or at shipping rates that are commercially acceptable to marketplace participants, our business and prospects, as well as our financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
We may be subject to liability for content available in our ecosystem that is alleged to be obscene, defamatory, libelous, socially destabilizing or otherwise unlawful.
Under PRC law and the laws of certain other jurisdictions in which we operate, we are required to monitor our websites and the websites hosted on our servers, cloud computing services and mobile apps or interfaces, as well as our services and devices that generate or host content, for items or content deemed to be obscene, superstitious, defamatory, libelous or socially destabilizing, as well as for items, content or services that are illegal to sell online or otherwise in jurisdictions in which we operate our marketplaces and other businesses, and promptly take appropriate action with respect to the relevant items, content or services. We may also be subject to potential liability in China or other jurisdictions for any unlawful actions of our merchants, marketing customers or users of our websites, cloud computing services or mobile apps or interfaces, or for content we distribute or that is linked from our platforms that is deemed inappropriate. It may be difficult for us to determine the type of content that may result in liability to us. The nature and scale of our websites, mobile apps and platforms, such as our cloud computing services, which allow users to upload and save massive data on our cloud data centers, social communities on our marketplaces and DingTalk, such as livestreams and other interactive media content on Taobao and Tmall, and Youku, which allow users to upload videos and other content to our websites, mobile apps and platforms, may make this even more difficult. Our livestreaming, short-form videos and interactive content businesses are subject to heightened risks and challenges associated with content liability. If we are unable to manage these risks, we could become subject to penalties, including regulatory actions, significant fines, suspension of business, and prohibition against new user registration, and our reputation and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected. Furthermore, compliance requirements are complicated and evolving, and may require us to implement different protections based on the type of content and intended audience. For example, the Regulations on the Administration of Minors Program, or the Minors Program Regulation, promulgated by the National Radio and Television Administration of China, or the NRTA, which came into effect on April 30, 2019 and amended on October 8, 2021, provides that radio and television broadcasters and online audiovisual program service providers shall establish relevant protocols and review content of minor-oriented programs to ensure that they do not contain violence, obscenity, superstition, social disruption, drug abuse or other prohibited elements. Furthermore, the Opinions on Standardizing the Virtual Gifting of Livestreaming and Strengthening the Protection of Minors issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China and several other PRC governmental authorities require platforms not to provide livestreaming hosting services to minors under 16 and adopt “teenager modes” to prevent minors from obsession, block unsuitable content to minors and refrain from providing virtual gift purchase services to minors. We may incur significant compliance costs and be subject to significant regulatory penalty for failure to comply with these requirements. If we are found to be liable for content displayed or hosted on or even hyperlinked to our services and platforms, we may be subject to negative publicity, fines, have our relevant business operation licenses revoked, or be prevented temporarily or for an extended period of time from operating our websites, mobile apps, interfaces or businesses in China or other jurisdictions, which could materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Our digital media and entertainment business (such as Youku) brought in a state-owned multimedia entity as a minority strategic investor for a consolidated entity. This shareholder has the right to appoint a director of the relevant consolidated entity and other rights including certain veto rights over the content review processes. Market perception of this and other similar arrangements may affect the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities. Moreover, the Cyberspace Administration of China has launched a series of “Cleaning Up the Internet” campaigns to eliminate illegal content and information on Internet platforms with special focus on livestreaming, short-form videos, content for minors, fandom culture, Internet rumors and Internet account operations, and has imposed more stringent obligations on Internet platforms, such as us, which may increase our compliance costs and subject us to regulatory actions and penalties. In the future, our businesses that generate or distribute content may be subject to greater governmental oversight or comply with other regulatory requirements.
In addition, claims may be brought against us for defamation, libel, negligence, copyright, patent or trademark infringement, tort (including death and personal injury), other unlawful activity or other theories and claims based on the nature and content of information posted on our platforms, including user-generated content, product reviews and message boards, by our consumers, merchants and other participants. Regardless of the outcome of any dispute or lawsuit, we may suffer from negative publicity and reputational damage as a result of these actions.
We have been and may continue to be subject to allegations, investigations, lawsuits, liabilities and negative publicity claiming that items listed and content available in our ecosystem are pirated, counterfeit or illegal.
We have been the subject in the past, and may continue to be the subject in the future, of allegations that items offered, sold or made available through our online marketplaces by third parties or that content we make available through other services, such as our online video and music platforms or through our smart devices, infringe third-party copyrights, trademarks and patents or other intellectual property rights. Although we have adopted and continue to optimize measures to proactively verify the products sold on our marketplaces for infringement and to minimize potential infringement of third-party intellectual property rights through our intellectual property infringement complaint and take-down procedures, these measures may not always be successful. In the event that alleged counterfeit or infringing products are listed or sold on our marketplaces or allegedly infringing content are made available through our other services, we could face claims and negative publicity relating to these activities or for our alleged failure to act in a timely or effective manner in response to infringement or to otherwise restrict or limit these activities. We may also choose to compensate consumers for any losses, although we are currently not legally obligated to do so. If, as a result of regulatory developments, we are required to compensate consumers, we would incur additional expenses.
Measures we take to protect against these potential liabilities could require us to spend substantial additional resources and/or result in reduced revenues. In addition, these measures may reduce the attractiveness of our ecosystem to consumers, merchants, brands, retailers and other participants. A merchant, brand, retailer, online marketer, livestreamer, music or video service provider or other content provider whose content is removed or whose services are suspended or terminated by us, regardless of our compliance with the applicable laws, rules and regulations, may dispute our actions and commence action against us for damages based on breach of contract or other causes of action, make public complaints or allegations or organize group protests and publicity campaigns against us or seek compensation. Any costs incurred as a result of liability or asserted liability relating to the sale of unlawful goods or other infringement could harm our business.
Regulators in China and other jurisdictions, including the United States, are increasingly seeking to hold Internet platforms liable for product liability, illegal listings and inappropriate content. We have been and may continue to be subject to significant negative publicity, regulatory scrutiny and allegations of civil or criminal liability based on allegedly unlawful activities or unauthorized distribution of products or content carried out by third parties through our online marketplaces. Due to our role as an operator of online marketplaces, we may also become subject to criminal liabilities if we are found to have knowingly assisted or supported any other person who was committing certain crimes. We have also acquired certain companies, such as Youku, Lazada and Ele.me, that from time to time are subject to allegations and lawsuits regarding alleged infringement of third-party intellectual property or other rights, and we may continue to acquire other companies that are subject to similar disputes.
In addition, we have been and may continue to be subject to significant negative publicity in China and other countries based on similar claims and allegations. For example, in past years and again in February 2022, the USTR identified Taobao as a “notorious market.” In 2022, the USTR also identified AliExpress as a notorious market. The USTR may continue to identify Taobao and AliExpress as notorious markets, and there can be no assurance that the USTR or other relevant authorities in the United States or other countries will not identify Taobao, AliExpress or any of our other businesses as notorious markets in the future. In addition, government authorities have in the past accused, and may in the future accuse, us of perceived problems and failures of our platforms, including alleged failures to crack down on the sale of counterfeit goods and other alleged illegal activities on our marketplaces. As a result of any claims or accusations by government authorities, by industry watchdog organizations, including the U.S. Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, by brand and intellectual property rights holders or by enterprises, there may be a public perception that counterfeit or pirated items are commonplace on our marketplaces or that we delay the process of removing these items. This perception, even if factually incorrect, and existing or new litigation as well as regulatory pressure or actions related to intellectual property rights protection, could damage our reputation, harm our business, diminish the value of our brand name and negatively affect the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
Failure to deal effectively with any fraud perpetrated and fictitious transactions conducted in our ecosystem, and other sources of customer dissatisfaction, could harm our business.
We face risks with respect to fraudulent activities on our marketplaces and in connection with other businesses we operate, and we periodically receive complaints from consumers who may not have received the goods that they had purchased, complaints from merchants who have not received payment for the goods that a consumer had contracted to purchase, as well as other types of actual and alleged fraudulent activities. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Transaction Platform Safety Programs” for more details about the measures we have adopted against fraudulent activities. Although we have implemented various measures to detect and reduce the occurrence of fraudulent activities on our marketplaces and in connection with other businesses we operate, there can be no assurance that these measures will be effective in combating fraudulent transactions or improving overall satisfaction among our consumers, merchants and other participants. Additional measures that we take to address fraud could also negatively affect the attractiveness of our marketplaces and other businesses we operate to consumers or merchants. In addition, merchants on our marketplaces contribute to a fund to provide consumer protection guarantees. If our merchants do not perform their obligations under these programs, we may use funds that have been deposited by merchants in a consumer protection fund to compensate consumers. If the amounts in the fund are not sufficient, we may choose to compensate consumers for losses, although currently we are not legally obligated to do so. If, as a result of regulatory developments, we are required to compensate consumers, we would incur additional expenses. Although we have recourse against our merchants for any amounts we incur, there can be no assurance that we would be able to collect these amounts from our merchants.
In addition to fraudulent transactions with legitimate consumers, merchants may also engage in fictitious or “phantom” transactions with themselves or collaborators in order to artificially inflate their own ratings on our marketplaces, reputation and search results rankings, an activity sometimes referred to as “brushing.” This activity may harm other merchants by enabling the perpetrating merchant to be favored over legitimate merchants, and may harm consumers by deceiving them into believing that a merchant is more reliable or trusted than the merchant actually is.
Government authorities, industry watchdog organizations or other third parties may issue reports or engage in other forms of public communications concerning alleged fraudulent or deceptive conduct on our platforms. Negative publicity and user sentiment generated as a result of these reports or allegations could severely diminish consumer confidence in and use of our services, reduce our ability to attract new or retain current merchants, consumers and other participants, damage our reputation, result in shareholder or other litigation, diminish the value of our brand, and materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We may be subject to claims under consumer protection laws, including health and safety claims and product liability claims, if property or people are harmed by the products and services sold through our platforms.
Government authorities in the PRC and other countries where we operate, media outlets and public advocacy groups are increasingly focused on consumer protection. Operators of e-commerce platforms are subject to certain provisions of consumer protection laws even where the operator is not the merchant of the product or service purchased by the consumer. For example, under China’s E-commerce Law, we may be held jointly liable with the merchants if we fail to take necessary actions when we know or should have known that the products or services provided by the merchants on our platforms do not meet personal and property security requirements, or otherwise infringe upon consumers’ legitimate rights. Applicable consumer protection laws in China also hold that trading platforms will be held liable for failing to meet any undertaking that the platforms make to consumers with regard to products listed on their websites. Furthermore, we are required to report to the SAMR or its local branches any violation of applicable laws, regulations or SAMR rules by merchants or service providers, such as sales of goods without proper license or authorization, and we are required to take appropriate remedial measures, including ceasing to provide services to the relevant merchants or service providers. According to the Online Trading Measures, we are also required to verify and update each merchant’s profile on a regular basis and monitor their market participant registration status. Therefore, we may be held liable if we fail to verify the licenses or qualifications of merchants, or fail to safeguard consumers with respect to products or services affecting consumers’ health or safety. Furthermore, under the PRC Minors’ Protection Law, network product and service providers shall not provide products or services that induce minors to obsession, or otherwise may be subject to rectification, warning or penalties including confiscation of income, fines, suspension of business, shutdown of websites and revocation of relevant licenses. On March 14, 2022, the Cyberspace Administration of China released the draft Regulations on the Protection of Minors on the Network for public comments, which stipulate that important Internet platforms with large number of minor users and significant influence among minors must fulfill their obligations, including but not limited to establishing a protocol to oversee the protection of minors online and carrying out periodic impact assessment, adopting “teenager modes” for minors, and suspending services to providers of products or services on the platform who seriously violate laws and regulations and harm minors’ rights and interests.
Moreover, as part of our growth strategy, we expect to increase our focus on food, food delivery, food supplements and beverages, mother care, cosmetics, baby care, pharmaceutical and healthcare products and services, as well as electronics products, both as a platform operator and as part of our directly operated business. We have also invested in companies involved in these sectors. These activities pose increasing challenges to our internal control and compliance systems and procedures, including our control over and management of third-party service personnel, and expose us to substantial increasing liability, negative publicity and reputational damage arising from consumer complaints, harm to personal health or safety or accidents involving products or services offered through our platforms or provided by us. For example, China’s Supreme People’s Court issued its interpretation of certain laws, including food safety laws and consumer protection laws, on December 8, 2020, and issued the Provisions on Issues Concerning the Application of Law for the Trial of Cases on Online Consumption Disputes (I) on March 1, 2022, which took effect on March 15, 2022. According to these judicial interpretations, livestreaming platform operators and online catering service platform operators are responsible for verifying the qualifications and licenses of livestreamers selling food product and online food operators, respectively, and they may be held jointly liable with the merchants on their respective platforms for damages incurred by consumers caused by defects in foods purchased on their platforms, if these operators fail to fulfill certain requirements and obligations. In addition, e-commerce platform operators shall be held liable as the product seller or service provider if the labels used mislead consumers to believe that the product or service is provided by the e-commerce platform, even if such product or service is in fact provided by third parties. See also “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulation of Online and Mobile Commerce.”
New laws and regulations on consumer protection may be introduced in China and other jurisdictions where we operate and impose more requirements on operators of e-commerce and livestreaming platforms. For example, PRC regulatory authorities promulgated several regulations on livestreaming activities, including the Administrative Measures on Online Livestreaming Marketing (Trial), which came into effect on May 25, 2021, which require livestreaming platforms to take actions such as limiting traffic and suspending livestreaming involving illegal high-risk marketing activities, and prominently alert users of the risks involved in transactions that are conducted outside livestreaming platforms. See also “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulation of Online and Mobile Commerce.” These regulations on e-commerce and livestreaming activities may impose additional operational burdens on us, result in increased compliance costs and liability to us and subject us to negative publicity.
In addition, we are facing increasing levels of activist litigation in China by plaintiffs claiming damages based on consumer protection laws. This type of activist litigation could increase in the future, and if it does, we could face increased costs defending these suits and damages should we not prevail, which could materially and adversely affect our reputation and brand and our results of operations.
We may also face increasing scrutiny from consumer protection regulators and activists, as well as increasingly become a target for litigation, in the United States, Europe and other jurisdictions. For example, member groups of the European Consumer Organization’s BEUC network have expressed concerns about certain consumer rights related to product returns and dispute resolution with respect to transactions conducted on our AliExpress platform, and requested a review of these consumer rights by their national consumer protection agencies. We only maintain product liability insurance for certain businesses we operate, and do not maintain product liability insurance for products and services transacted on our marketplaces, and our rights of indemnity from the merchants in our ecosystem may not adequately cover us for any liability we may incur. Consumer complaints and associated negative publicity could materially and adversely harm our reputation and affect our business expansion. Claims brought against us under consumer protection laws, even if unsuccessful, could result in significant expenditure of funds and diversion of management time and resources, which could materially and adversely affect our business operations, net income and profitability.
We may be accused of infringing intellectual property rights of third parties or violating content restrictions under relevant laws.
Third parties may claim that our product and service offerings, the content on our platforms, including content available through our digital media and entertainment business, search business, online reading platform, online music platform, news feed features and IoT devices or our technology infringe upon their intellectual property rights or are provided beyond the authorized scope. Although we have not in the past faced material litigation involving direct claims of infringement by us, the possibility of intellectual property claims against us, whether in China or other jurisdictions, increases as we continue to grow, particularly internationally. The establishment of, and issuance of reports by, the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property also highlights the current focus of the United States on investigating, preventing and taking action against alleged misappropriation of intellectual property, that may result in increased scrutiny, investigations, enforcement actions and litigation relating to intellectual property infringement. In addition, in April 2019, the U.S. administration issued an executive order instructing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to coordinate with other federal agencies working to combat the counterfeiting of goods. In response, in January 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a report outlining a series of recommended government actions. This executive order and the report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security aim to, among other things, demand more accountability from intermediary online marketplaces, such as ours, for the availability and sale of counterfeit goods on their marketplaces. To that end, it specifically made recommendations of best practices that marketplaces could utilize to fight counterfeiting.
We have also acquired businesses, such as Youku, that have been, and may continue to be, subject to liabilities for infringement of third-party intellectual property rights or other allegations based on the content available on their websites and mobile apps or the services they provide. In addition, we expect our ecosystem to involve more and more user-generated content, including the entertainment content on Youku and our smart speakers, the interactive media content displayed on Taobao and Tmall, including livestreams and short-form videos, as well as the data generated, uploaded and saved by users of our cloud services, over which we have limited control. Such content may subject us to claims for infringement of third-party intellectual property rights, or subject us to additional scrutiny by the relevant government authorities. These claims or scrutiny, whether or not having merit, may result in our expenditure of significant financial and management resources, injunctions against us or payment of damages. We may need to obtain licenses from third parties who allege that we have infringed their rights, but these licenses may not be available on terms acceptable to us or at all. These risks have been amplified by the increase in the number of third parties whose sole or primary business is to assert these claims.
China has enacted laws and regulations governing Internet access and the distribution of products, services, news, information, audio-video programs and other content through the Internet. The PRC government has prohibited the distribution of information through the Internet that it deems to be in violation of PRC laws and regulations, impairs the national dignity of China or the public interest, or is obscene, superstitious, fraudulent or defamatory. Users of certain of our websites and platforms, including Youku, can upload content to these websites, mobile apps and platforms, which is generally referred to as user-generated content. Due to the significant amount of content uploaded by our users, we may not be able to identify all the videos or other content that may violate relevant laws and regulations. If any of the information disseminated through our marketplaces, websites, mobile apps or other businesses we operate, including videos and other content (including user-generated content) displayed on Youku’s or our other websites, mobile apps or on our Tmall set-top boxes, smart speakers and smart televisions, or any content that we have produced or acquired, are deemed by the PRC government to violate any content restrictions, we would not be able to continue to display or distribute this content and could suffer losses or become subject to penalties, including confiscation of income, fines, suspension of business and revocation of required licenses, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. Furthermore, under certain circumstances, we could be subject to criminal liabilities if we are found to have knowingly provided assistance or support, such as Internet access, server escrow or online storage services, to any other person who was committing a crime relating to intellectual property infringement. The outcome of any claims, investigations and proceedings is inherently uncertain, and in any event defending against these claims could be both costly and time-consuming, and could significantly divert the efforts and resources of our management and other personnel. An adverse determination in any of these litigation matters or proceedings could cause us to pay damages, incur legal and other costs, limit our ability to conduct business or require us to change the manner in which we operate and harm our reputation. As we expand our operations internationally, we expect that we will become subject to similar laws and regulations in other jurisdictions.
We may not be able to protect our intellectual property rights.
We rely on a combination of trademark, patent, copyright, trade secret protection and fair trade practice laws in China and other jurisdictions, as well as confidentiality procedures and contractual provisions, to protect our intellectual property rights. We also enter into confidentiality agreements with our employees and any third parties who may access our proprietary information, and we rigorously control access to our proprietary technology and information. In addition, as our business expands and we increase our acquisition of and management of content, we expect to incur greater costs to acquire, license and enforce our rights to content.
Intellectual property protection may not be sufficient in the jurisdictions in which we operate. Confidentiality agreements may be breached by counterparties, and there may not be adequate remedies available to us for these breaches. Accordingly, we may not be able to effectively protect our intellectual property rights or to enforce our contractual rights in China or elsewhere. In addition, policing any unauthorized use of our intellectual property is difficult, time-consuming and costly and the steps we have taken may be inadequate to prevent the misappropriation of our intellectual property. In the event that we resort to litigation to enforce our intellectual property rights, this litigation could result in substantial costs and a diversion of our managerial and financial resources.
There can be no assurance that we will prevail in any litigation. In addition, our trade secrets may be leaked or otherwise become available to, or be independently discovered by, our competitors. Any failure in protecting or enforcing our intellectual property rights could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Tightening of tax compliance efforts that affect our merchants could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Tax legislation relating to the ecosystem is still developing. Governments, both in China and in other jurisdictions, may promulgate or strengthen the implementation of tax regulations that impose obligations on e-commerce companies, which could increase the costs to consumers and merchants and make our platforms less competitive in these jurisdictions. Governments may require operators of marketplaces, such as us, to assist in the enforcement of tax registration requirements and the collection of taxes with respect to the revenue or profit generated by merchants from transactions conducted on their platforms. We may also be requested by tax authorities to supply information about our merchants, such as transaction records and bank account information, and assist in the enforcement of other tax regulations, including payment and withholding obligations against our merchants. As a result of more stringent tax compliance requirements and liabilities, we may lose existing merchants and potential merchants might not be willing to open storefronts on our marketplaces, which could in turn negatively affect us. Stricter tax enforcement by tax authorities may also reduce the activities by merchants on our platforms and increase our liabilities and obligations.
Any heightened tax law enforcement against participants in our ecosystem (including imposition of reporting or withholding obligations on operators of marketplaces with respect to VAT of merchants and stricter tax enforcement against merchants generally) could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We may be subject to material litigation and regulatory proceedings.
We have been involved in a high volume of litigation in China and a small volume of potentially high-value litigation outside of China relating principally to securities law class actions, third-party and principal intellectual property infringement claims, contract disputes involving merchants and consumers on our platforms, consumer protection claims, claims relating to data and privacy protection, employment related cases and other matters in the ordinary course of our business. As our ecosystem expands, including across jurisdictions and through the addition of new businesses, we have encountered and may face an increasing number and a wider variety of these claims, including those brought against us pursuant to anti-monopoly or anti-unfair competition laws or involving high amounts of alleged damages. Laws, rules and regulations may vary in their scope and overseas laws and regulations may impose requirements that are more stringent than, or which conflict with, those in China. We have acquired and may acquire companies that have been subject to or may become subject to litigation, as well as regulatory proceedings. In addition, in connection with litigation or regulatory proceedings we may be subject to in various jurisdictions, we may be prohibited by laws, regulations or government authorities in one jurisdiction from complying with subpoenas, orders or other requests from courts or regulators of other jurisdictions, including those relating to data held in or with respect to persons in these jurisdictions. Our failure or inability to comply with the subpoenas, orders or requests could subject us to fines, penalties or other legal liability, which could have a material adverse effect on our reputation, business, results of operations, the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
As publicly listed companies, we and certain of our subsidiaries face additional exposure to claims and lawsuits, as well as threatened claims and lawsuits, inside and outside of China. In particular, since Ant Group’s announcement of the suspension of its initial public offering in early November 2020, we and certain of our current and former officers and directors were named as defendants in certain shareholder class action lawsuits in the United States. See “Item 8. Financial Information — A. Consolidated Statements and Other Financial Information — Legal and Administrative Proceedings” for more details about the shareholder class action lawsuits. Certain of these suits also assert claims related to our alleged failure to disclose non-compliance with certain Chinese antitrust laws and regulations. The litigation process of defending against lawsuits, including any appeals, may utilize a material portion of our cash resources and divert management’s attention away from our day-to-day operations, all of which could harm our business. There can be no assurance that we will prevail in any of these cases, and any adverse outcome of these cases could have a material adverse effect on our reputation, business and results of operations. In addition, although we have obtained directors’ and officers’ liability insurance, the insurance coverage may not be adequate to cover our obligations to indemnify our directors and officers, fund a settlement of litigation in excess of insurance coverage or pay an adverse judgment in litigation.
In early 2016, the SEC informed us that it had initiated an investigation into whether there have been any violations of the federal securities laws. The SEC has requested that we voluntarily provide it with documents and information relating to, among other things, our consolidation policies and practices (including our prior practice of accounting for Cainiao Network as an equity method investee), our policies and practices applicable to related party transactions in general, and our reporting of operating data from the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival. We are cooperating with the SEC and, through our legal counsel, have been providing the SEC with requested documents and information. The SEC advised us that the initiation of a request for information should not be construed as an indication by the SEC or its staff that any violation of the federal securities laws has occurred. This matter is ongoing, and, as with any regulatory proceeding, we cannot predict when it will be concluded.
The existence of litigation, claims, investigations and proceedings may harm our reputation, limit our ability to conduct our business in the affected areas and adversely affect the trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities. The outcome of any claims, investigations and proceedings is inherently uncertain, and in any event defending against these claims could be both costly and time-consuming, and could significantly divert the efforts and resources of our management and other personnel. An adverse determination in any litigation, investigation or proceeding could cause us to pay damages, incur legal and other costs, limit our ability to conduct business or require us to change the manner in which we operate.
We may increasingly become a target for public scrutiny, including complaints to regulatory agencies, negative media coverage, including social media and malicious reports, all of which could severely damage our reputation and brand and materially and adversely affect our business and prospects.
We process an extremely large number of transactions on a daily basis on our marketplaces and other businesses we operate, and the high volume of transactions taking place in our ecosystem and publicity about our business creates the possibility of heightened attention from the public, regulators, the media and participants in our ecosystem. Changes in our services or policies have resulted and could result in objections by members of the public, the media, including social media, participants in our ecosystem or others. We may also become subject to public scrutiny relating to our workplace environment, work culture and other practices. From time to time, these objections, complaints and negative media coverage, regardless of their veracity, may result in public protests or negative publicity, which could result in government inquiry or harm our reputation and brand, and adversely affect the price of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
Corporate transactions we or our related parties undertake, such as our transactions with Ant Group, initiatives to grow our direct sales business and consumer services business and expand into international markets, as well as our various business practices may also subject us to increased media exposure and public scrutiny. There can be no assurance that we would not become a target for regulatory or public scrutiny in the future or that scrutiny and public exposure would not severely damage our reputation and brand as well as our business and prospects.
In addition, our directors, management and employees have been, and continue to be, subject to scrutiny by the media and the public regarding their activities in and outside Alibaba Group, which may result in negative, unverified, inaccurate or misleading information about them being reported by the press. Negative publicity about our founders, directors, management or employees, even if unrelated to the products or services we offer, or even if untrue or inaccurate, may harm our reputation and brand, and adversely affect the price of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
Our results of operations fluctuate significantly from quarter to quarter which may make it difficult to predict our future performance.
Our results of operations generally are characterized by seasonal fluctuations due to various reasons, including seasonal buying patterns and economic cyclical changes, as well as promotions on our marketplaces. Historically, the fourth quarter of each calendar year generally contributes the largest portion of our annual revenues due to a number of factors, such as merchants allocating a significant portion of their online marketing budgets to the fourth calendar quarter, promotions, such as the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, and the impact of seasonal buying patterns in respect of certain categories such as apparel. The first quarter of each calendar year generally contributes the smallest portion of our annual revenues, primarily due to a lower level of allocation of marketing budgets by merchants at the beginning of the calendar year and the Chinese New Year holiday, during which time consumers generally spend less and businesses in China are generally closed. We may also introduce new promotions or change the timing of our promotions in ways that further cause our quarterly results to fluctuate and differ from historical patterns. In addition, seasonal weather patterns may affect the timing of buying decisions. The performance of our equity method investees, including Ant Group, may also result in fluctuations in our results of operations. Fluctuations in our results of operations related to our investments may also be because of accounting implication of re-measurement of fair values of certain equity investments and financial instruments, particularly those that are publicly traded, share-based awards and previously held equity interests upon step acquisitions, as well as accounting implication arising from loss of control of subsidiaries. Fluctuations in fair value and the magnitude of the related accounting impact are unpredictable, and may significantly affect our results of operations.
Our results of operations will likely fluctuate due to these and other factors, some of which are beyond our control. In addition, our growth in the past may have masked the seasonality that might otherwise be apparent in our results of operations. As the rate of growth of our business declines in comparison to prior periods, we expect that the seasonality in our business may become more pronounced. Moreover, as our business grows, our fixed costs and expenses may continue to increase, which will result in operating leverage in seasonally strong quarters but can significantly pressure operating margins in seasonally weak quarters.
To the extent our results of operations do not meet the expectations of public market analysts and investors in the future, or if there are significant fluctuations in our financial results, the market price of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities could fluctuate significantly.
Our reputation, our brand and our business may be harmed by aggressive marketing and communications strategies of our competitors.
Due to intense competition in our industry, we have been and may be the target of incomplete, inaccurate and false statements and complaints about us and our products and services that could damage our reputation and brand and materially deter consumers and customers from spending in our ecosystem. In addition, competitors have used, and may continue to use, methods such as lodging complaints with regulators, initiating frivolous and nuisance lawsuits, and other forms of attack litigation and “lawfare” that attempt to harm our reputation and brand, hinder our operations, force us to expend resources on responding to and defending against these claims, and otherwise gain a competitive advantage over us by means of litigious and accusatory behavior. Our ability to respond on share price-sensitive information to our competitors’ misleading marketing efforts, including lawfare, may be limited during our self-imposed quiet periods around quarter ends consistent with our internal policies or due to legal prohibitions on permissible public communications by us during certain other periods.
Failure to comply with the terms of our indebtedness or enforcement of our obligations as a guarantor of other parties’ indebtedness could have an adverse effect on our cash flow and liquidity.
As of March 31, 2022, we had US$14.95 billion in aggregate principal amount of unsecured senior notes and a US$4 billion term loan outstanding. As of the date of this annual report, we also have a US$6.5 billion revolving credit facility that we have not yet drawn down. Under the terms of our indebtedness and under any debt financing arrangement that we may enter into in the future, we are, and may be in the future, subject to covenants that could, among other things, restrict our business and operations. If we breach any of these covenants, our lenders under our credit facilities and holders of our unsecured senior notes will be entitled to accelerate our debt obligations. Any default under our credit facilities or unsecured senior notes could require that we repay these debts prior to maturity as well as limit our ability to obtain additional financing, which in turn may have a material adverse effect on our cash flow and liquidity. We also provide a guarantee for a term loan facility of HK$7.7 billion (US$1.0 billion) in favor of Hong Kong Cingleot Investment Management Limited, a company that is partially owned by Cainiao Network, in connection with a logistics center development project at the Hong Kong International Airport. As of the date of this annual report, this entity has drawn down HK$3.4 billion under this facility. In the event of default by this entity under the loan facility, we may be required to repay the full amount or a portion of the outstanding loan and interests and undertake the borrower’s other obligations under the loan facility. Enforcement against us under this guarantee and other similar arrangements we may enter into in the future could materially and adversely affect our cash flow and liquidity.
We may need additional capital but may not be able to obtain it on favorable terms or at all.
We may require additional cash resources due to future growth and development of our business, including any investments or acquisitions we may decide to pursue, and for other general corporate purposes. If our cash resources are insufficient to satisfy our cash requirements, we may seek to issue additional equity or debt securities or obtain new or expand credit facilities. Our ability to obtain external financing in the future is subject to a variety of uncertainties. Offshore-incorporated companies deemed to be directly or indirectly controlled by individual PRC residents are required to complete filings before the launch of any offshore debt issuance or incurrence of any commercial loan with a term of more than one year in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. If we fail to complete such filing on a timely manner or at all, we may miss the best market windows for debt issuances or loan applications. In addition, according to the Draft Overseas Listing Regulations, we may have to complete filing procedures with the CSRC for any follow-on equity offerings. If we fail to complete such filing on a timely manner or at all, we may be subject to penalties, sanctions and fines imposed by the CSRC and relevant departments of the State Council of the PRC. See also “— There are uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations, and changes in policies, laws, rules and regulations in the PRC could adversely affect us.” In addition, incurring indebtedness would subject us to increased debt service obligations and could result in operating and financial covenants that would restrict our operations. Our ability to access international capital and lending markets may be restricted at a time when we would like, or need, to do so, especially during times of increased volatility and reduced liquidity in global financial markets and stock markets, including due to policy changes and regulatory restrictions, which could limit our ability to raise funds. See “— Risks Related to Doing Business in the People’s Republic of China — If our auditor is sanctioned or otherwise penalized by the PCAOB or the SEC as a result of failure to comply with inspection or investigation requirements, our financial statements will be determined to be not in compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Exchange Act or other laws or rules in the United States, which could ultimately result in our ADSs being delisted and materially and adversely affect our other securities.” There can be no assurance that financing will be available in a timely manner or in amounts or on terms acceptable to us, or at all. Any failure to raise needed funds on terms favorable to us, or at all, could severely restrict our liquidity as well as have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Moreover, any issuance of equity or equity-linked securities, including issuances of share-based awards under our equity incentive plans, could result in significant dilution to our existing shareholders.
We are subject to interest rate risk in connection with our indebtedness.
We are exposed to interest rate risk related to our indebtedness. The interest rates under certain of our offshore credit facilities are based on a spread over LIBOR. As a result, the interest expenses associated with this indebtedness will be subject to the potential impact of any fluctuation in LIBOR. Any increase in LIBOR could impact our financing costs if not effectively hedged. Our Renminbi-denominated bank borrowings are also subject to interest rate risk. Although from time to time, we use hedging transactions in an effort to reduce our exposure to interest rate risk, these hedges may not be effective.
In July 2017, the United Kingdom Financial Conduct Authority, or the FCA, which regulates LIBOR, announced that it would cease to compel banks to participate in setting LIBOR after the end of 2021, or the FCA Announcement. In November 2020, the International Exchange (ICE) Benchmark Administration, or the IBA, the administrator of LIBOR, announced its intention to cease publishing one-week and two-month LIBOR on December 31, 2021 and the remaining tenors (overnight, one-month, three-month, six-month and 12-month) on June 30, 2023. The Alternative Reference Rates Committee, a group of private-market participant convened by the U.S. Federal Reserve Board and the New York Federal Reserve, has recommended Secured Overnight Financing Rate, or SOFR, as a more robust reference rate alternative to U.S. dollar LIBOR. Uncertainties surrounding the phase-out of LIBOR may cause a sudden and prolonged increase or decrease in LIBOR; the phase-out of LIBOR could adversely affect our operating results and financial condition, as well as our cash flows. Certain of our offshore credit facilities which interest rates are based on a spread over LIBOR include mechanisms to determine alternative basis of interest. Since LIBOR will not be available, we may need to further negotiate with our lenders to agree on an alternative basis of interest, which may result in an interest rate differing from our expectations and could materially affect the cost of these facilities to us. There can be no assurance that any hedging transactions we use will be effective in protecting us against adverse changes in interest rates or that our bank counterparties will be able to perform their obligations.
We may not have sufficient insurance coverage to cover our business risks.
We have obtained insurance to cover certain potential risks and liabilities, such as property damage, business interruptions, public liabilities and product liability insurance for certain businesses we operate. However, insurance companies in China and other jurisdictions in which we operate may offer limited business insurance products or we may not be able to obtain such insurance on favorable terms. As a result, we do not maintain insurance for all types of risks we face in our operations in China and elsewhere, and our coverage may not be adequate to compensate for all losses that may occur, particularly with respect to loss of business or operations. We do not maintain product liability insurance for products and services transacted on our marketplaces or other businesses we operate, and our rights of indemnity from the merchants in our ecosystem may not adequately cover us for any liability we may incur.
We also do not maintain key-man life insurance. This potentially insufficient coverage could expose us to potential claims and losses. Any business disruption, litigation, regulatory action, outbreak of epidemic disease or natural disaster could also expose us to substantial costs and diversion of resources. There can be no assurance that our insurance coverage is sufficient to prevent us from any loss or that we will be able to successfully claim our losses under our current insurance policy on a timely basis, or at all. If we incur any loss that is not covered by our insurance policies, or the compensated amount is significantly less than our actual loss, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure
The Alibaba Partnership and related voting agreements limit the ability of our shareholders to nominate and elect directors.
Our Articles of Association allow the Alibaba Partnership to nominate or, in limited situations, appoint a simple majority of our board of directors. If at any time our board of directors consists of less than a simple majority of directors nominated or appointed by the Alibaba Partnership for any reason, including because a director previously nominated by the Alibaba Partnership ceases to be a member of our board of directors or because the Alibaba Partnership had previously not exercised its right to nominate or appoint a simple majority of our board of directors, the Alibaba Partnership will be entitled (in its sole discretion) to nominate or appoint such number of additional directors to the board as necessary to ensure that the directors nominated or appointed by the Alibaba Partnership comprise a simple majority of our board of directors.
In addition, pursuant to a voting agreement we entered in 2014, which was amended and restated in 2021, SoftBank and Joe Tsai agreed to vote their Shares in favor of the Alibaba Partnership director nominees at each annual general shareholders meeting for so long as SoftBank owns at least 15% of our outstanding ordinary shares. Furthermore, the voting agreement provides that SoftBank has the right to nominate one director to our board until SoftBank owns less than 15% of our outstanding ordinary shares, and that right is also reflected in our Articles. In addition, pursuant to the voting agreement, Joe Tsai has agreed to vote his shares (including shares for which he has voting power) in favor of the election of the SoftBank director nominee at each annual general shareholders meeting in which the SoftBank nominee stands for election.
This governance structure and contractual arrangement limit the ability of our shareholders to influence corporate matters, including any matters determined at the board level. In addition, the nomination right granted to the Alibaba Partnership will remain in place for the life of the Alibaba Partnership unless our Articles are amended to provide otherwise by a vote of shareholders representing at least 95% of shares that vote at a shareholders meeting. The nomination rights of the Alibaba Partnership will remain in place notwithstanding a change of control or merger of our company. These provisions and agreements could have the effect of delaying, preventing or deterring a change in control and could limit the opportunity of our shareholders to receive a premium for the ADSs and/or Shares they hold, and could also materially decrease the price that some investors are willing to pay for our ADSs and/or Shares.
The interests of the Alibaba Partnership may conflict with the interests of our shareholders.
The nomination and appointment rights of the Alibaba Partnership limit the ability of our shareholders to influence corporate matters, including any matters to be determined by our board of directors. The interests of the Alibaba Partnership may not coincide with the interests of our shareholders, and the Alibaba Partnership or its director nominees may make decisions with which they disagree, including decisions on important topics such as compensation, management succession, acquisition strategy and our business and financial strategy. Since the Alibaba Partnership will continue to be largely comprised of members of our management team, the Alibaba Partnership and its director nominees, consistent with our operating philosophy, may focus on the long-term interests of participants in our ecosystem at the expense of our short-term financial results, which may differ from the expectations and desires of shareholders unaffiliated with the Alibaba Partnership. To the extent that the interests of the Alibaba Partnership differ from the interests of any of our shareholders, our shareholders may be disadvantaged by any action that the Alibaba Partnership may seek to pursue.
Our Articles of Association contain anti-takeover provisions that could adversely affect the rights of holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs.
Our articles of association contain certain provisions that could limit the ability of third parties to acquire control of our company, including:
|●||a provision that grants authority to our board of directors to establish from time to time one or more series of preferred shares without action by our shareholders and to determine, with respect to any series of preferred shares, the terms and rights of that series;|
|●||a provision that a business combination, if it may adversely affect the right of the Alibaba Partnership to nominate or appoint a simple majority of our board of directors, including the protective provisions for this right under our Articles, shall be approved upon vote of shareholders representing at least 95% of the votes in person or by proxy present at a shareholders meeting; and|
|●||a classified board with staggered terms that will prevent the replacement of a majority of directors at one time.|
These provisions could have the effect of delaying, preventing or deterring a change in control and could limit the opportunity for our shareholders to receive a premium for their ADSs and/or Shares, and could also materially decrease the price that some investors are willing to pay for our ADSs and/or Shares.
The interests of Softbank, our major shareholder, may differ from those of our other shareholders.
Under the terms of the voting agreement we entered into with SoftBank, SoftBank has the right to nominate one member of our board of directors, and Joe Tsai has agreed to vote his shares (including shares for which he has voting power) in favor of the SoftBank director nominees at each annual general shareholders meeting in which the SoftBank nominee stands for election until such time as SoftBank holds less than 15% of our outstanding ordinary shares. SoftBank’s director nomination right is also reflected in our Articles of Association. Except with regard to shareholder votes relating to the Alibaba Partnership director nominees, SoftBank will have significant influence over the outcome of matters that require shareholder votes and accordingly over our business and corporate matters. SoftBank may exercise its shareholder rights in a way that it believes is in its own best interest, which may conflict with the interest of our other shareholders. These actions may be taken even if SoftBank is opposed by our other shareholders. For more information, see “Item 7. Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions — B. Related Party Transactions — Transactions and Agreements with SoftBank — Amended Voting Agreement.”
Our ADSs and ordinary shares are equity securities of a Cayman Islands holding company rather than equity securities of our subsidiaries and the VIEs that have substantive business operations in China.
We are incorporated in the Cayman Islands with no business operations. We conduct substantially all of our operations in China through our subsidiaries and the VIEs. We do not and are not, and holders of our ADSs and ordinary shares do not and are not, legally permitted to have any, or more than the permitted percentage of, equity interest in the VIEs due to current PRC laws and regulations restricting foreign ownership and investment. As a result, we provide services that may be subject to such restrictions in the PRC through the VIEs, and we operate our businesses in the PRC through certain contractual arrangements with the VIEs. For a summary of such contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements among Our Subsidiaries, Variable Interest Entities and the Variable Interest Entity Equity Holders.” Our ADSs and ordinary shares are equity securities of a Cayman Islands holding company rather than equity securities of our subsidiaries and the VIEs.
If the PRC government deems that the contractual arrangements in relation to the VIEs do not comply with PRC regulations on foreign investment, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to penalties, or be forced to relinquish our interests in the operations of the VIEs, which would materially and adversely affect our business, financial results, trading prices of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities.
Due to legal restrictions on foreign ownership and investment in, among other areas, value-added telecommunication services, which include the operations of ICPs, we, similar to all other entities with foreign-incorporated holding company structures operating in our industry in China, operate our Internet businesses and other business in China, including Internet information services, which are critical to our business, through a number of PRC incorporated VIEs. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulation of Telecommunications and Internet Information Services — Regulation of Telecommunications Services” and “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Other Regulations — Regulation of Foreign Investment.”
We and, through us, our shareholders do not own any equity interests in these VIEs. The equity interests of the VIEs are generally held by PRC limited liability companies, which in turn are indirectly held (through a layer of PRC limited partnerships) by selected members of the Alibaba Partnership or our management who are PRC citizens. Please also see “Item 4. Information on the Company — C. Organizational Structure.” Contractual arrangements between us and the VIEs and their equity holders give us effective control over each of the VIEs and enable us to obtain substantially all of the economic benefits arising from the VIEs as well as to consolidate the financial results of the VIEs in our results of operations. Although we believe the structure we have adopted is consistent with longstanding industry practice, the PRC government may not agree that these arrangements comply with PRC licensing, registration or other regulatory requirements, with existing policies or with requirements or policies that may be adopted in the future.
In the opinion of Fangda Partners, our PRC counsel, the ownership structures of our representative VIEs and the corresponding subsidiaries in China do not and will not violate any applicable PRC law, regulation or rule currently in effect; and the contractual arrangements between the representative VIEs, the corresponding subsidiaries and the respective equity holders of the representative VIEs governed by PRC law are valid, binding and enforceable in accordance with their terms and applicable PRC laws and regulations currently in effect and will not violate any applicable PRC law, rule or regulation currently in effect. However, Fangda Partners has also advised us that there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current PRC laws, rules and regulations. Accordingly, the possibility that the PRC regulatory authorities and PRC courts may in the future take a view that is contrary to the opinion of our PRC legal counsel cannot be ruled out. In addition, such laws, rules and regulations could change or be interpreted differently in the future.
Contractual arrangements in relation to VIEs have not been tested in a court of law, and it is uncertain whether any new PRC laws, rules or regulations relating to VIE structures will be adopted or if adopted, what they would provide. Please also see “— Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the PRC Foreign Investment Law and its implementing rules and other regulations and how they may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, business, financial condition and results of operations.”
If we or any of the VIEs are found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws, rules or regulations, or fail to obtain or maintain any of the required permits or approvals, we could be subject to severe penalties. The relevant PRC regulatory authorities would have broad discretion to take action in dealing with these violations or failures, including revoking the business and operating licenses of our PRC subsidiaries or the VIEs, requiring us to discontinue or restrict our operations, restricting our right to collect revenue, blocking one or more of our websites, requiring us to restructure our operations or taking other regulatory or enforcement actions against us. The imposition of any of these measures could result in a material adverse effect on our ability to conduct all or any portion of our business operations. In addition, it is unclear what impact the PRC government actions would have on us and on our ability to consolidate the financial results of any of the VIEs in our consolidated financial statements, if the PRC government authorities were to find our legal structure and contractual arrangements to be in violation of PRC laws, rules and regulations. If the imposition of any of these government actions causes us to lose our right to direct the activities of any of the VIEs or otherwise separate from any of these entities and if we are not able to restructure our ownership structure and operations in a satisfactory manner, we would no longer be able to consolidate the financial results of the VIEs in our consolidated financial statements. Any of these events would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations, as well as cause the trading prices of our ADSs and Shares to significantly decline or become worthless.
Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the PRC Foreign Investment Law and its implementing rules and other regulations and how they may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, business, financial condition and results of operations.
The VIE structure has been adopted by many China-based companies, including us and certain of our equity method investees, to obtain licenses and permits necessary to operate in industries that currently are subject to restrictions on or prohibitions for foreign investment in China. The MOFCOM published a discussion draft of the proposed Foreign Investment Law in January 2015, or the 2015 Draft PRC Foreign Investment Law, according to which, VIEs that are controlled via contractual arrangements would be deemed as foreign-invested enterprises, if they are ultimately “controlled” by foreign investors. In March 2019, the National People’s Congress promulgated the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law. In December 2019, the State Council of the PRC promulgated the Implementing Rules of the Foreign Investment Law of the People’s Republic of China, or the Implementing Rules, to further clarify and elaborate upon relevant provisions of the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law. The 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law and the Implementing Rules both became effective on January 1, 2020 and replaced major former laws and regulations governing foreign investment in the PRC. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Other Regulations — Regulation of Foreign Investment.” As the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law has a catch-all provision that broadly defines “foreign investments” as those made by foreign investors in China through methods as specified in laws, administrative regulations, or as stipulated by the State Council of the PRC, relevant government authorities may promulgate additional rules and regulations as to the interpretation and implementation of the 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law. In particular, there can be no assurance that the concept of “control” as reflected in the 2015 Draft PRC Foreign Investment Law, will not be reintroduced, or that the VIE structure adopted by us will not be deemed as a method of foreign investment by other laws, regulations and rules.
Furthermore, on December 19, 2020, the NDRC and MOFCOM promulgated the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, which took effect on January 18, 2021. Under the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, investments in military, national defense-related areas or in locations in proximity to military facilities, or investments that would result in acquiring the actual control of assets in certain key sectors, such as critical agricultural products, energy and resources, equipment manufacturing, infrastructure, transport, cultural products and services, IT, Internet products and services, financial services and technology sectors, are required to be approved by designated governmental authorities in advance. Although the term “investment through other means” is not clearly defined under the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, we cannot rule out the possibility that control through contractual arrangement may be regarded as a form of actual control and therefore require approval from the competent governmental authority. There are great uncertainties with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures. Accordingly, there are substantial uncertainties as to whether our VIE structure may be deemed as a method of foreign investment in the future. If our VIE structure were to be deemed as a method of foreign investment under any future laws, regulations and rules, and if any of our business operations were to fall under the “Negative List” for foreign investment, we would need to take further actions in order to comply with these laws, regulations and rules, which may materially and adversely affect our current corporate structure, business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our contractual arrangements may not be as effective in providing control over the VIEs as direct ownership.
We rely on contractual arrangements with the VIEs to operate part of our Internet businesses in China and other businesses in which foreign investment is restricted or prohibited. We and, through us, our shareholders do not own any equity interests in these VIEs. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company — C. Organizational Structure — Contractual Arrangements among Our Subsidiaries, Variable Interest Entities and the Variable Interest Entity Equity Holders.” These contractual arrangements may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing us with control over the VIEs.
If we had direct ownership of the VIEs, we would be able to exercise our rights as an equity holder directly to effect changes in the boards of directors of those entities, which could effect changes at the management and operational level. Under our contractual arrangements, we may not be able to directly change the members of the boards of directors of these entities and would have to rely on the VIEs and the VIE equity holders to perform their obligations in order to exercise our control over the VIEs. The VIE equity holders may have conflicts of interest with us or our shareholders, and they may not act in our best interests or may not perform their obligations under these contracts. Pursuant to the call options, we may replace the equity holders of the VIEs at any time pursuant to the contractual arrangements. However, if any equity holder is uncooperative in the replacement of the equity holders or there is any dispute relating to these contracts that remains unresolved, we will have to enforce our rights under the contractual arrangements through the operations of PRC law and arbitral or judicial agencies, which may be costly and time-consuming and will be subject to uncertainties in the PRC legal system. See “— Any failure by the VIEs or their equity holders to perform their obligations under the contractual arrangements would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.” Consequently, the contractual arrangements may not be as effective in ensuring our control over the relevant portion of our business operations as direct ownership.
Any failure by the VIEs or their equity holders to perform their obligations under the contractual arrangements would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
If the VIEs or their equity holders fail to perform their respective obligations under the contractual arrangements, we may have to incur substantial costs and expend additional resources to enforce the arrangements. Although we have entered into call option agreements in relation to each VIE, which provide that we may exercise an option to acquire, or nominate a person to acquire, ownership of the equity in that entity or, in some cases, its assets, to the extent permitted by applicable PRC laws, rules and regulations, the exercise of these call options is subject to the review and approval of the relevant PRC governmental authorities. We have also entered into equity pledge agreements with the equity holders with respect to each VIE, including the general partners and limited partners of the PRC limited partnerships that indirectly hold the VIEs under the Enhanced VIE Structure, to secure certain obligations of the VIE or its equity holders to us under the contractual arrangements. In addition, the enforcement of these agreements through arbitral or judicial agencies, if any, may be costly and time-consuming and will be subject to uncertainties in the PRC legal system. Moreover, our remedies under the equity pledge agreements are primarily intended to help us collect debts owed to us by the VIEs or the VIE equity holders under the contractual arrangements and may not help us in acquiring the assets or equity of the VIEs.
In addition, with respect to the VIEs that are directly owned by individuals, although the terms of the contractual arrangements provide that they will be binding on the successors of the VIE equity holders, as those successors are not a party to the agreements, it is uncertain whether the successors in case of the death, bankruptcy or divorce of a VIE equity holder will be subject to or will be willing to honor the obligations of the VIE equity holder under the contractual arrangements. If the relevant VIE or its equity holder (or its successor), as applicable, fails to transfer the shares of the VIE according to the respective call option agreement or equity pledge agreement, we would need to enforce our rights under the call option agreement or equity pledge agreement, which may be costly and time-consuming and may not be successful.
The contractual arrangements are governed by PRC law and provide for the resolution of disputes through arbitration or court proceedings in China. Accordingly, these contracts would be interpreted in accordance with PRC law and any disputes would be resolved in accordance with PRC legal procedures. Uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of the relevant PRC laws and regulations could limit our ability to enforce the contractual arrangements. Under PRC law, if the losing parties fail to carry out the arbitration awards or court judgments within a prescribed time limit, the prevailing parties may only enforce the arbitration awards or court judgments in PRC courts, which would require additional expense and delay. In the event we are unable to enforce the contractual arrangements, we may not be able to exert effective control over the VIEs, and our ability to conduct our business, as well as our financial condition and results of operations, may be materially and adversely affected.
We may lose the ability to use, or otherwise benefit from, the licenses, approvals and assets held by the VIEs, which could severely disrupt our business, render us unable to conduct some or all of our business operations and constrain our growth.
Although the significant majority of our revenues are captured through, and the significant majority of our operational assets are held, by our subsidiaries, the VIEs hold licenses and approvals and assets for regulated activities that are necessary for our business operations, as well as equity interests in a series of our portfolio companies, to which foreign investments are typically restricted or prohibited under applicable PRC law. The contractual arrangements contain terms that specifically obligate VIE equity holders to ensure the valid existence of the VIEs and restrict the disposal of material assets of the VIEs. However, in the event the VIE equity holders breach the terms of these contractual arrangements and voluntarily liquidate the VIEs, or any of the VIEs declares bankruptcy and all or part of its assets become subject to liens or rights of third-party creditors, or are otherwise disposed of without our consent, we may be unable to conduct some or all of our business operations or otherwise benefit from the assets held by the VIEs, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Furthermore, if any of the VIEs undergoes a voluntary or involuntary liquidation proceeding, its equity holder or unrelated third-party creditors may claim rights to some or all of the assets of the VIE, thereby hindering our ability to operate our business as well as constrain our growth.
The equity holders, directors and executive officers of the VIEs may have potential conflicts of interest with us.
PRC laws provide that a director and an executive officer owes a fiduciary duty to the company he or she directs or manages. On one hand, the directors and executive officers of the VIEs, including the relevant members of the Alibaba Partnership or our management, must act in good faith and in the best interests of the VIEs and must not use their respective positions for personal gain. On the other hand, as a director or management of our company, the relevant individuals have a duty of care and loyalty to us and to our shareholders as a whole under Cayman Islands law. We control the VIEs through contractual arrangements and the business and operations of the VIEs are closely integrated with the business and operations of our subsidiaries. Nonetheless, conflicts of interests for these individuals may arise due to dual roles both as equity holders, directors and executive officers of the VIEs and as our directors or employees.
There can be no assurance that these individual shareholders of the VIEs will always act in our best interests should any conflicts of interest arise, or that any conflicts of interest will always be resolved in our favor. There also can be no assurance that these individuals will ensure that the VIEs will not breach the existing contractual arrangements. If we cannot resolve any of these conflicts of interest or any related disputes, we would have to rely on legal proceedings to resolve these disputes and/or take enforcement action under the contractual arrangements. There is substantial uncertainty as to the outcome of any of these legal proceedings. See “— Any failure by the VIEs or their equity holders to perform their obligations under the contractual arrangements would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.”
The contractual arrangements with the VIEs may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities. Any pricing adjustment of a related party transaction could lead to additional taxes, and therefore substantially reduce our consolidated net income and the value of your investment.
The tax regime and practices in China are evolving and PRC tax laws may be interpreted in significantly different ways. The PRC tax authorities may assert that we or our subsidiaries or the VIEs or their equity holders are required to pay additional taxes on previous or future revenue or income. In particular, under applicable PRC laws, rules and regulations, arrangements and transactions among related parties, such as the contractual arrangements with the VIEs, may be subject to audit or challenge by the PRC tax authorities. If the PRC tax authorities determine that any contractual arrangements were not entered into on an arm’s length basis and therefore constitute favorable transfer pricing, the PRC tax liabilities of the relevant subsidiaries and/or VIEs and/or VIE equity holders could be increased, which could increase our overall tax liabilities. In addition, the PRC tax authorities may impose late payment interest. Our net income may be materially reduced if our tax liabilities increase.
Risks Related to Doing Business in the People’s Republic of China
Changes and developments in the political and economic policies of the PRC government may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations and may result in our inability to sustain our growth and expansion strategies.
Although we have operating subsidiaries located in various countries and regions, our operations in China currently contribute the large majority of our revenue. The PRC government has significant oversight and discretion over the conduct of our business, and may intervene in or influence our operations through adopting and enforcing rules and regulatory requirements. Accordingly, our financial condition and results of operations are affected to a significant extent by economic, political and legal developments in the PRC.
The PRC economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including the level of development, growth rate, extent of government involvement, control of foreign exchange and allocation of resources. A substantial portion of productive assets in China is still managed by the government. In addition, the PRC government regulates industry development by imposing industrial policies. The PRC government also plays a significant role in China’s economic growth by allocating resources, controlling payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy and regulating financial services and institutions.
While the PRC economy has experienced significant growth in the past four decades, growth has been uneven, both geographically and among various sectors of the economy. The PRC government has implemented various measures to encourage economic growth and guide the allocation of resources. Some of these measures may benefit the overall PRC economy, but may also have a negative effect on us. Our financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected by government control over capital investments or changes in tax regulations that are applicable to us. In addition, the PRC government has implemented in the past certain measures, including interest rate increases, to manage the pace of economic growth and prevent the economy from overheating. Any prolonged slowdown in the Chinese economy could lead to a reduction in demand for our services and consequently have a material adverse effect on our businesses, financial condition and results of operations.
There are uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations, and changes in policies, laws, rules and regulations in the PRC could adversely affect us.
Most of our operations are conducted in the PRC, and are governed by PRC laws, rules and regulations. Our PRC subsidiaries are subject to laws, rules and regulations applicable to foreign investment in China. The PRC legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike the common law system, prior court decisions may be cited for reference but have limited precedential value.
China has not developed a fully integrated legal system, and enacted laws, rules and regulations may not sufficiently cover all aspects of economic activities in China or may be subject to a significant degree of interpretation by PRC regulatory agencies and courts. In particular, because these laws, rules and regulations are relatively new and quickly evolving, and because of the limited number of published decisions and the non-precedential nature of these decisions, and because the laws, rules and regulations often give the relevant regulator certain discretion in how to enforce them, the interpretation and enforcement of these laws, rules and regulations involve uncertainties and can be inconsistent and unpredictable. Therefore, it is possible that our existing operations may be found not to be in full compliance with relevant laws and regulations in the future. In addition, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules, some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all, and which may have a retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of these policies and rules until after the occurrence of the violation.
Any administrative and court proceedings in China may be protracted, resulting in substantial costs and diversion of resources and management attention. Since PRC administrative and court authorities have certain discretion in interpreting and implementing statutory and contractual terms, it may be more difficult to predict the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection than in more developed legal systems. These uncertainties may impede our ability to enforce the contracts we have entered into and could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In addition, the PRC government has significant influence over business activities and, to further regulatory and societal goals, has become more involved in regulating China-based companies, including us. For example, in recent years the PRC government, has enhanced regulation in areas such as anti-monopoly, anti-unfair competition, cybersecurity and data privacy. In addition, the PRC government recently published new policies that significantly affected the Internet industries and certain other industries, including industries that we operate in, and in the future it may implement other policies or regulations that may have a significant adverse impact on us or industries that we operate in.
In addition, the PRC government has announced its plans to enhance its regulatory oversight of Chinese companies listing overseas. The Opinions on Intensifying Crack Down on Illegal Securities Activities issued on July 6, 2021 called for:
|●||tightening oversight of data security, cross-border data flow and administration of classified information, as well as amendments to relevant regulation to specify responsibilities of overseas listed Chinese companies with respect to data security and information security;|
|●||enhanced oversight of overseas listed companies as well as overseas equity fundraising and listing by Chinese companies; and|
|●||extraterritorial application of China’s securities laws.|
There are great uncertainties with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the Opinions on Intensifying Crack Down on Illegal Securities Activities. Furthermore, on December 24, 2021, the CSRC published the Provisions of the State Council of the PRC on the Administration of Overseas Securities Offering and Listing by Domestic Companies (Draft for Comments), and Administrative Measures for the Filing of Overseas Securities Offering and Listing by Domestic Companies (Draft for Comments), or collectively, the Draft Overseas Listing Regulations. The Draft Overseas Listing Regulations, among others, clarify the scope of overseas offering and listing by a Chinese company, and stipulate that Chinese companies that have directly or indirectly listed securities in overseas markets shall fulfill their filing obligations and report relevant information to the CSRC within three working days after conducting a follow-on offering in overseas markets. The Draft Overseas Listing Regulations also list a number of circumstances where overseas offering is prohibited, including where (i) the offering is prohibited by PRC laws, (ii) the offering may constitute a threat to or endanger national security, (iii) the company has material ownership disputes over equity, major assets, and core technology, (iv) in the most recent three years, the company’s Chinese operating entities and their controlling shareholders and actual controllers have committed certain criminal offenses or are currently under investigations for suspicion of criminal offenses or major violations, (v) the directors, supervisors, or senior executives of the company have been subject to administrative punishment for severe violations, or are currently under investigations for suspicion of criminal offenses or major violations, or (vi) other circumstances as prescribed by the State Council of the PRC. According to the Draft Overseas Listing Regulations, if we fail to complete the filing procedures with the CSRC for any of our follow-on offerings or fall within any of the circumstances where our follow-on offering is prohibited by the State Council of the PRC, our offering application may be discontinued and we may be subject to penalties, sanctions and fines imposed by the CSRC and relevant departments of the State Council of the PRC. In severe circumstances, the business of our PRC subsidiaries may be suspended and their business qualifications and licenses may be revoked.
As advised by our PRC legal counsel, the Draft Overseas Listing Regulations were released only for soliciting public comments at this stage and their provisions and anticipated adoption or effective date are subject to changes and thus their interpretation and implementation remain substantially uncertain. Although we intend to fully comply with the then effective relevant laws and regulation applicable to all our follow-on offerings, including but not limited to fulfilling our obligations under such laws and regulations to complete any required reporting and filing procedures, there may be uncertainties as to whether we are able to fully comply with this and similar regulations, whether adopted in the current form or a further revised form. If adopted in current form, these new regulatory requirements could significantly limit or completely hinder our ability to offer or continue to offer securities to investors and cause the value of our securities, including our ADSs, to significantly decline or become worthless.
The Chinese government may further promulgate relevant laws, rules and regulations that may impose additional and significant obligations and liabilities on Chinese companies. These laws and regulations can be complex and stringent, and many are subject to change and uncertain interpretation, which could result in claims, change to our data and other business practices, regulatory investigations, penalties, increased cost of operations, or declines in user growth or engagement, or otherwise affect our business. It is uncertain whether or how these new laws, rules and regulations and the interpretation and implementation thereof may affect us, but among other things, our ability and the ability of our subsidiaries to obtain external financing through the issuance of equity securities overseas could be negatively affected and as a result, the trading prices of our ADSs and Shares to could significantly decline or become worthless.
If our auditor is sanctioned or otherwise penalized by the PCAOB or the SEC as a result of failure to comply with inspection or investigation requirements, our financial statements will be determined to be not in compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Exchange Act or other laws or rules in the United States, which could ultimately result in our ADSs being delisted and materially and adversely affect our other securities.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, our auditor, is required under U.S. law to undergo regular inspections by the PCAOB. However, without approval from the Chinese government authorities, the PCAOB is currently unable to conduct inspections of the audit work and practices of PCAOB-registered audit firms within the PRC on a basis comparable to other non-U.S. jurisdictions. Since we have substantial operations in the PRC, our auditor and its audit work are currently not fully inspected by the PCAOB, and as such, investors of our ADSs, Shares and/or other securities do not have the benefit of such inspections.
Inspections of other auditors conducted by the PCAOB outside of China have at times identified deficiencies in those auditors’ audit procedures and quality control procedures, which may be addressed as part of the inspection process to improve future audit quality. The inability of the PCAOB to conduct full inspections of auditors in China makes it more difficult for it to evaluate the effectiveness of our auditor’s audit procedures or quality control procedures as compared to auditors outside of China that are subject to PCAOB inspections.
The SEC previously instituted proceedings against mainland Chinese affiliates of the “big four” accounting firms, including the affiliate of our auditor, for failing to produce audit work papers under Section 106 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act because of restrictions under PRC law. Each of the “big four” accounting firms in mainland China agreed to a censure and to pay a fine to the SEC to settle the dispute and stay the proceedings for four years, until the proceedings were deemed dismissed with prejudice on February 6, 2019. It remains unclear whether the SEC will commence a new administrative proceeding against the four mainland China-based accounting firms. Any such new proceedings or similar action against our audit firm for failure to provide access to audit work papers could result in the imposition of penalties, such as suspension of our auditor’s ability to practice before the SEC. If our independent registered public accounting firm, or its affiliate, were denied, even temporarily, the ability to practice before the SEC, and it were determined that our financial statements or audit reports are not in compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Exchange Act, we could be at risk of delisting or become subject to other penalties that would adversely affect our ability to remain listed on the NYSE.
In recent years, U.S. regulators have continued to express their concerns about challenges in their oversight of financial statement audits of U.S.-listed companies with significant operations in China. More recently, as part of increased regulatory focus in the United States on access to audit information, the United States enacted the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, or the HFCA Act, in December 2020. The HFCA Act includes requirements for the SEC to identify issuers whose audit reports are prepared by auditors that the PCAOB is unable to inspect or investigate completely because of a restriction imposed by a non-U.S. authority in the auditor’s local jurisdiction. The HFCA Act also requires public companies on this SEC list to certify that they are not owned or controlled by a foreign government and make certain additional disclosures in their SEC filings. In addition, if the auditor of a U.S. listed company’s financial statements is not subject to PCAOB inspections for three consecutive “non-inspection” years after the law becomes effective, the SEC is required to prohibit the securities of such issuer from being traded on a U.S. national securities exchange, such as the NYSE, or in U.S. over-the-counter markets. On June 22, 2021, the U.S. Senate passed the Accelerating Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, which if enacted into law would amend the HFCA Act and require the SEC to prohibit an issuer’s securities from trading on U.S. stock exchanges if its auditor is not subject to PCAOB inspections for two consecutive “non-inspection” years instead of three. On February 4, 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength Act of 2022, which also includes the accelerating provisions of the Accelerating Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act. On September 22, 2021, the PCAOB adopted PCAOB Rule 6100 Board Determinations Under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, which provides a framework for making determinations as to whether PCAOB is unable to inspect an audit firm in a foreign jurisdiction, which the SEC approved on November 5, 2021. On December 2, 2021, the SEC adopted final amendments to its rules implementing the HFCA Act. On December 16, 2021, the PCAOB issued its report notifying the SEC of its determination that it is unable to inspect or investigate completely accounting firms headquartered in China or Hong Kong, including our independent registered public accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers. In March 2022, the SEC began identifying “commission-identified issuers” that are not in compliance with the accounting-related procedures of the HFCA Act and could be subject to potential delisting from U.S. exchanges over time. Based on the HFCA Act, PCAOB Rule 6100 and the implementing rules of the SEC, we expect that we will be identified as a “commission-identified issuer” following the filing of this annual report. Accordingly, if the PCAOB is not able to inspect our auditor, our securities may be prohibited from trading on the NYSE or other U.S. stock exchange by 2024, or 2023 if the Accelerating Foreign Companies Accountable Act is enacted into law.
On April 2, 2022, the CSRC, together with the Ministry of Finance, the National Administration of State Secrets Protection and the National Archives Administration of China, issued the Draft Revisions to the Provisions on Strengthening Confidentiality and Archives Administration of Overseas Securities Offering and Listing by Domestic Companies, or the Draft Revised Confidentiality and Archives Administration Provisions, for public comment, which stipulate that if overseas securities regulators or relevant competent authorities request to investigate or inspect domestic companies, including both domestically incorporated joint-stock companies that offer and list securities directly in overseas markets and domestic operating entities of companies indirectly listed on overseas markets, or securities companies and securities service providers that undertake securities business for such domestic companies, such investigation and inspection shall be conducted under a cross-border regulatory cooperation mechanism, and the domestic companies shall report to the CSRC or other competent PRC authorities before cooperating with the investigation and inspection by, or providing documents and materials to overseas securities regulators or other competent overseas authorities. Moreover, the domestic companies which provide or publicly disclose any documents or materials containing state secrets or government work secrets to securities services providers such as securities companies and accounting firms or overseas regulators, shall first obtain approval from competent PRC authorities, and file with the relevant secrecy administrative department. Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the final content, enactment timetable, interpretation and implementation of the Draft Revised Confidentiality and Archives Administration Provisions. Moreover, while the CSRC has released the above draft rules to facilitate PCAOB’s inspection of accounting firms in China, there can be no assurance that our auditor or us will be able to comply with requirements imposed by U.S. regulators. Delisting of our ADSs would force our U.S.-based shareholders to sell their ADSs or convert them into Shares listed in Hong Kong. Although we are listed in Hong Kong, investors may face difficulties in migrating their underlying ordinary shares to Hong Kong, or may have to incur increased costs or suffer losses in order to do so. The market prices of our ADSs and/or other securities could be adversely affected as a result of anticipated negative impacts of the HFCA Act upon, as well as negative investor sentiment towards, China-based companies listed in the United States, regardless of our actual operating performance.
PRC regulations relating to investments in offshore companies by PRC residents may subject our PRC-resident beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to liability or penalties, limit our ability to inject capital into our PRC subsidiaries or limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to increase their registered capital or distribute profits.
SAFE promulgated the SAFE Circular 37 on July 4, 2014, which replaced the former circular commonly known as “SAFE Circular 75” promulgated by SAFE on October 21, 2005. SAFE Circular 37 and its implementing rules require PRC residents to register with banks designated by local branches of SAFE in connection with their direct establishment or indirect control of an offshore entity, for the purpose of overseas investment and financing, with the PRC residents’ legally owned assets or equity interests in domestic enterprises or offshore assets or interests, referred to in SAFE Circular 37 as a “special purpose vehicle.”
We notified substantial beneficial owners of ordinary shares who we know are PRC residents of their filing obligation, and pursuant to the former SAFE Circular 75, we filed the above-mentioned foreign exchange registration on behalf of certain employee shareholders who we know are PRC residents. However, we may not be aware of the identities of all of our beneficial owners who are PRC residents. We do not have control over our beneficial owners, and there can be no assurance that all of our PRC-resident beneficial owners will comply with relevant SAFE regulations. The failure of our beneficial owners who are PRC residents to register or amend their SAFE registrations in a timely manner or the failure of future beneficial owners of our company who are PRC residents to comply with the registration procedures set forth in SAFE Circular 37 and subsequent implementation rules, may subject the beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to fines and legal sanctions.
Furthermore, since it is unclear how those SAFE regulations, and any future regulation concerning offshore or cross-border transactions, will be further interpreted, amended and implemented by the relevant PRC government authorities, we cannot predict how these regulations will affect our business operations or future strategy. Failure to register or comply with relevant requirements may also limit our ability to contribute additional capital to our PRC subsidiaries and limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to distribute dividends to our company. These risks may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Any failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding our employee equity incentive plans may subject the PRC participants in the plans, us or our overseas and PRC subsidiaries to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
Pursuant to SAFE Circular 37, PRC residents who participate in share incentive plans in overseas non-publicly-listed companies may, prior to the exercise of an option, submit applications to SAFE or its local branches for the foreign exchange registration with respect to offshore special purpose companies. In the meantime, our directors, executive officers and other employees who are PRC citizens or who are non-PRC citizens residing in the PRC for a continuous period of not less than one year, subject to limited exceptions, and whom we or our overseas listed subsidiaries have granted RSUs, options or restricted shares, may follow the Notice on Issues Concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas Publicly Listed Company, issued by SAFE in February 2012, to apply for the foreign exchange registration. According to those regulations, employees, directors and other management members participating in any stock incentive plan of an overseas publicly listed company who are PRC citizens or who are non-PRC citizens residing in China for a continuous period of not less than one year, subject to limited exceptions, are required to register with SAFE through a domestic qualified agent, which may be a PRC subsidiary of the overseas listed company, and complete certain other procedures. Failure to complete the SAFE registrations may subject them to fines and legal sanctions and may also limit their ability to make payment under the relevant equity incentive plans or receive dividends or sales proceeds related thereto in foreign currencies, or may limit our ability to contribute additional capital into our domestic subsidiaries in China and limit our domestic subsidiaries’ ability to distribute dividends to us. We also face regulatory uncertainties under PRC law that could restrict our ability or the ability of our overseas listed subsidiaries to adopt additional equity incentive plans for our directors and employees who are PRC citizens or who are non-PRC citizens residing in the PRC for a continuous period of not less than one year, subject to limited exceptions.
In addition, the STA has issued circulars concerning employee RSUs, share options or restricted shares. Under these circulars, employees working in the PRC whose RSUs or restricted shares vest, or who exercise share options, will be subject to PRC individual income tax. The PRC subsidiaries of an overseas listed company have obligations to file documents related to employee RSUs, share options or restricted shares with relevant tax authorities and to withhold individual income taxes of those employees related to their RSUs, share options or restricted shares. Although we and our overseas listed subsidiaries currently withhold individual income tax from our PRC employees in connection with the vesting of their RSUs and restricted shares and their exercise of options, if the employees fail to pay, or the PRC subsidiaries fail to withhold, their individual income taxes according to relevant laws, rules and regulations, the PRC subsidiaries may face sanctions imposed by the tax authorities.
We rely to a significant extent on dividends, loans and other distributions on equity paid by our operating subsidiaries in China.
We are a holding company and rely to a significant extent on dividends, loans and other distributions on equity paid by our operating subsidiaries for our cash and financing requirements, including the funds necessary to pay dividends and other cash distributions to our shareholders, fund inter-company loans, service outstanding debt and pay our expenses. If our operating subsidiaries incur additional debt on their own, the instruments governing the debt may restrict their ability to pay dividends or make other distributions or remittances, including loans, to us. Furthermore, the laws, rules and regulations applicable to our PRC subsidiaries and certain other subsidiaries permit payments of dividends only out of their retained earnings, if any, determined in accordance with applicable accounting standards and regulations.
Under PRC laws, rules and regulations, each of our subsidiaries incorporated in China is required to set aside a portion of its net income each year to fund certain statutory reserves. These reserves, together with the registered equity, are not distributable as cash dividends. As a result of these laws, rules and regulations, our subsidiaries incorporated in China are restricted in their ability to transfer a portion of their respective net assets to their shareholders as dividends. In addition, registered share capital and capital reserve accounts are also restricted from withdrawal in the PRC, up to the amount of net assets held in each operating subsidiary. As of March 31, 2022, these restricted net assets totaled RMB165.6 billion (US$26.1 billion).
P4P services are considered, in part, to involve Internet advertisement, which subjects us to other laws, rules and regulations as well as additional obligations.
The Internet Advertising Measures promulgated by the SAIC defines Internet advertisements as any commercial advertising that directly or indirectly promotes goods or services through Internet media in any form including paid-for search results. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulation of Advertising Services.”
There exist substantial uncertainties with respect to the interpretation and implementation in practice of the Internet Advertising Measures by various government authorities. We derive a significant amount of our revenue from P4P services and other related services. Our P4P services and other related services may be considered to, in part, involve Internet advertisement. We may incur additional taxes in connection with our P4P and other related services. Moreover, PRC advertising laws, rules and regulations require advertisers, advertising operators and advertising distributors to ensure that the content of the advertisements they prepare or distribute is fair and accurate and is in full compliance with applicable law. Violation of these laws, rules or regulations may result in penalties, including fines, confiscation of advertising fees and orders to cease dissemination of the advertisements. In circumstances involving serious violations, the PRC government may suspend or revoke a violator’s business license or license for operating an advertising business. In addition, the Internet Advertising Measures require paid-for search results to be clearly distinguished from organic search results so that consumers will not misunderstand the nature of these search results. Therefore, we are obligated to distinguish from others the merchants who purchase the above-mentioned P4P and related services or the relevant listings by these merchants. Complying with these requirements, including any penalties or fines for any failure to comply, may significantly reduce the attractiveness of our platforms and increase our costs, and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In addition, for advertising content related to specific types of products and services, advertisers, advertising operators and advertising distributors must confirm that the advertisers have obtained requisite government approvals, including the advertiser’s operating qualifications, proof of quality inspection of the advertised products, and, with respect to certain industries, government approval of the content of the advertisement and filing with the local authorities. Pursuant to the Internet Advertising Measures, we are required to take steps to monitor the content of advertisements displayed on our platforms. This requires considerable resources and time, and could significantly affect the operation of our business, while also subjecting us to increased liability under the relevant laws, rules and regulations. The costs associated with complying with these laws, rules and regulations, including fines or any other penalties for our failure to so comply if required, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Any further change in the classification of our P4P and other related services by the PRC government may also significantly disrupt our operations and materially and adversely affect our business and prospects.
We may be treated as a resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, and we may therefore be subject to PRC income tax on our global income.
Under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, as amended, enterprises established under the laws of jurisdictions outside of China with “de facto management bodies” located in China may be considered PRC tax resident enterprises for tax purposes and may be subject to the PRC enterprise income tax at the rate of 25% on their global income. The STA issued Circular 82 on April 22, 2009, which was further amended on December 29, 2017. Circular 82 specifies certain criteria for determining whether the “de facto management body” of a Chinese-controlled, offshore-incorporated enterprise is located in China. Although Circular 82 applies only to offshore enterprises controlled by PRC enterprises, and does not apply to offshore enterprises controlled by foreign enterprises or individuals, the determining criteria set forth in Circular 82 may reflect the PRC tax authorities’ general position on how the “de facto management body” test should be applied in determining the tax resident status of offshore enterprises, regardless of whether they are controlled by PRC enterprises. If we were to be considered a PRC resident enterprise, we would be subject to PRC enterprise income tax at the rate of 25% on our global income. In this case, our profitability and cash flow may be materially reduced as a result of our global income being taxed under the Enterprise Income Tax Law. We believe that none of our entities outside of China is a PRC resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes. However, the tax resident status of an enterprise is subject to determination by the PRC tax authorities and uncertainties remain with respect to the interpretation of the term “de facto management body.”
Dividends payable to foreign investors and gains on the sale of our ADSs and/ or ordinary shares by our foreign investors may become subject to PRC taxation.
Under the Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation regulations, a 10% PRC withholding tax is applicable to dividends payable by a resident enterprise to investors that are non-resident enterprises, which do not have an establishment or place of business in the PRC or which have an establishment or place of business but the dividends are not effectively connected with the establishment or place of business, to the extent these dividends are derived from sources within the PRC, subject to any reduction set forth in applicable tax treaties. Similarly, any gain realized on the transfer of shares of a PRC resident enterprise by these investors is also subject to PRC tax at a current rate of 10%, subject to any exemption set forth in relevant tax treaties. If we are deemed a PRC resident enterprise, dividends paid on our ordinary shares or ADSs, and any gain realized by the non-resident enterprise investors from the transfer of our ordinary shares or ADSs, may be treated as income derived from sources within the PRC and as a result be subject to PRC taxation. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Other Regulations — Tax Regulations — PRC Enterprise Income Tax.” Furthermore, if we are deemed a PRC resident enterprise, dividends payable to individual investors who are non-PRC residents and any gain realized on the transfer of our ADSs and/or ordinary shares by these investors may be subject to PRC tax at a current rate of 20%, subject to any reduction or exemption set forth in applicable tax treaties. It is unclear if we or any of our subsidiaries established outside of China are considered a PRC resident enterprise, whether holders of our ADSs and/or ordinary shares would be able to claim the benefit of income tax treaties or agreements entered into between China and other countries or areas and claim foreign tax credit if applicable. If dividends payable to our non-PRC investors, or gains from the transfer of our ADSs and/or ordinary shares by these investors are subject to PRC tax, the value of your investment in our ADSs and/or ordinary shares may decline significantly.
Discontinuation of preferential tax treatments we currently enjoy or other unfavorable changes in tax law could result in additional compliance obligations and costs.
Chinese companies operating in the high-technology and software industry that meet relevant requirements may qualify for three main types of preferential treatment, which are high and new technology enterprises, software enterprises and key software enterprises within the scope of the PRC national plan. For a qualified high and new technology enterprise, the applicable enterprise income tax rate is 15%. The high and new technology enterprise qualification is re-assessed by the relevant authorities every three years. Moreover, a qualified software enterprise is entitled to a tax holiday consisting of a two-year tax exemption beginning from the first profit-making calendar year and a 50% tax reduction for the subsequent three consecutive calendar years. The software enterprise qualification is subject to an annual assessment. A qualified encouraged key software enterprise is entitled to a five-year enterprise income tax exemption beginning from the first profit-making calendar year and its applicable enterprise income tax rate for the following calendar year is 10%. The key software enterprise qualification is subject to an annual assessment.
A number of our China operating entities enjoy these preferential tax treatments. There is no guarantee that these entities will be able to renew or maintain the above-mentioned qualifications when such qualifications expire or be able to meet new requirements under continuously evolving rules concerning preferential tax treatments, and if any of our China operating entities fails to do so, it will not be able to continue to enjoy the preferential tax treatments. For example, certain of our subsidiaries did not obtain the key software enterprise status for calendar year 2020. The discontinuation of any of the various types of preferential tax treatment we enjoy could materially and adversely affect our results of operations. See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — A. Operating Results — Taxation — PRC Income Tax.”
We and our shareholders face uncertainties with respect to indirect transfers of equity interests in PRC resident enterprises or other assets attributed to a PRC establishment of a non-PRC company.
On February 3, 2015, the STA issued Bulletin 7, which has been further amended by Bulletin 37, issued by the STA on October 17, 2017 and amended on June 15, 2018. Pursuant to these bulletins, an “indirect transfer” of assets, including equity interests in a PRC resident enterprise, by non-PRC resident enterprises may be re-characterized and treated as a direct transfer of PRC taxable assets, if the arrangement does not have a reasonable commercial purpose and was established for the purpose of avoiding payment of PRC enterprise income tax. As a result, gains derived from this indirect transfer may be subject to PRC enterprise income tax.
There are uncertainties as to the application of Bulletin 7 and Bulletin 37. Bulletin 7 may be determined by the tax authorities to be applicable to some of our offshore restructuring transactions or sale of the shares of our offshore subsidiaries or investments where PRC taxable assets are involved. The transferors and transferees may be subject to the tax filing and the transferees may be subject to withholding or tax payment obligation, while our PRC subsidiaries may be requested to assist in the filing. Furthermore, we, our non-resident enterprises and PRC subsidiaries may be required to spend valuable resources to comply with Bulletin 7 or to establish that we and our non-resident enterprises should not be taxed under Bulletin 7, for our previous and future restructuring or disposal of shares of our offshore subsidiaries, which may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
The PRC tax authorities have the discretion under Bulletin 7 to make adjustments to the taxable capital gains based on the difference between the fair value of the taxable assets transferred and the cost of investment. If the PRC tax authorities make adjustments to the taxable capital gains of the transactions under Bulletin 7, our income tax costs associated with potential acquisitions or disposals will increase, which may have an adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Restrictions on currency exchange or outbound capital flows may limit our ability to utilize our PRC revenue effectively.
Substantially all of our revenue is denominated in Renminbi. The Renminbi is currently convertible under the “current account,” which includes dividends, trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, but requires approval from or registration with appropriate government authorities or designated banks under the “capital account,” which includes foreign direct investment and loans, including loans we may secure from our onshore subsidiaries or VIEs. Currently, our PRC subsidiaries, that are foreign invested enterprises, may purchase foreign currency for settlement of “current account transactions,” including payment of dividends to us, without the approval of SAFE by complying with certain procedural requirements. However, the relevant PRC governmental authorities may limit or eliminate our ability to purchase foreign currencies in the future for current account transactions.
Since 2016, PRC governmental authorities have imposed more stringent restrictions on outbound capital flows, including heightened scrutiny over “irrational” overseas investments for certain industries, as well as over four kinds of “abnormal” offshore investments, which are:
|●||investments through enterprises established for only a few months without substantive operations;|
|●||investments with amounts far exceeding the registered capital of onshore parent and not supported by its business performance shown on financial statements;|
|●||investments in targets that are unrelated to the onshore parent’s main business; and|
|●||investments with abnormal sources of Renminbi funding suspected to involve illegal transfer of assets or illegal operation of underground banking.|
On January 18, 2017, SAFE promulgated the Circular on Further Improving Reform of Foreign Exchange Administration and Optimizing Genuineness and Compliance Verification, or Circular 3, which, among other things, requires stricter authenticity and compliance verification of outbound investment transactions. In addition, the Outbound Investment Sensitive Industry Catalog (2018) lists certain sensitive industries that are subject to NDRC pre-approval requirements prior to remitting investment funds offshore, which subjects us to increased approval requirements and restrictions with respect to our overseas investment activity. Since a significant amount of our PRC revenue is denominated in Renminbi, any existing and future restrictions on currency exchange or outbound capital flows may limit our ability to utilize revenue generated in Renminbi to fund our business activities outside of the PRC, make investments, service any debt we have incurred or may incur outside of China, including our outstanding senior notes and other debt securities we may offer in the future or pay dividends in foreign currencies to our shareholders, including holders of our ADSs.
Fluctuations in exchange rates could result in foreign currency exchange losses to us.
The value of the Renminbi against the U.S. dollar and other currencies may fluctuate and is affected by, among other things, changes in political and economic conditions and the foreign exchange policy adopted by the PRC government. It is difficult to predict how market forces or PRC or U.S. government policy, including any interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve, may impact the exchange rate between the Renminbi and the U.S. dollar in the future. There remains significant international pressure on the PRC government to adopt a more flexible currency policy, including from the U.S. government. In August 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it labelled China a “currency manipulator,” which label was officially dropped by the U.S. Treasury Department in January 2020. However, it is uncertain whether the U.S. government may issue any similar announcement in the future. As a result of such announcement, the United States may take further actions to eliminate perceived unfair competitive advantages created by alleged manipulating actions. Any actions taken by the U.S. Treasury Department in this regard as well as China’s possible responses could result in greater fluctuation of the Renminbi against the U.S. dollar.
A substantial percentage of our revenues and costs are denominated in Renminbi, and a significant portion of our financial assets are also denominated in Renminbi while the majority of our debt is denominated in U.S. dollars. We are a holding company and we rely on dividends, loans and other distributions on equity paid by our operating subsidiaries in China. Any significant fluctuations in the value of the Renminbi may materially and adversely affect our liquidity and cash flows. If we decide to convert our Renminbi into U.S. dollars for the purpose of repaying principal or interest expense on our outstanding U.S. dollar-denominated debt, making payments for dividends on our ordinary shares or ADSs or other business purposes, appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the Renminbi would have a negative effect on the U.S. dollar amount we would receive. Conversely, to the extent that we need to convert U.S. dollars into Renminbi for our operations, appreciation of the Renminbi against the U.S. dollar would have an adverse effect on the Renminbi amount we would receive. In addition, the revenues and costs of certain of our international businesses are denominated in local currencies. Fluctuations in exchange rates of these currencies against our reporting currency Renminbi will have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations. From time to time we enter into hedging activities with regard to exchange rate risk. There can be no assurance that our hedging activities will successfully mitigate these risks adequately or at all or that our counterparties will be able to perform their obligations, and in addition hedging activities may result in greater volatility in our financial results.
Risks Related to Our ADSs and Shares
The trading prices of our ADSs and Shares have been and are likely to continue to be volatile, which could result in substantial losses to holders of our ADSs and/or Shares.
The trading prices of our ADSs and Shares have been and is likely to continue to be volatile and could fluctuate widely in response to a variety of factors, many of which are beyond our control. For example, the high and low closing prices of our ADSs on the NYSE in fiscal year 2022 were US$244.01 and US$76.76, respectively. Likewise, the high and low closing prices of our Shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange during fiscal year 2022 were HK$237.80 and HK$71.25, respectively. In addition, the performance and fluctuation of the market prices of other companies with business operations located mainly in China that have listed their securities in Hong Kong S.A.R. and/or the United States may affect the volatility in the prices of and trading volumes for our ADSs and/or Shares. Some of these companies have experienced significant volatility. The trading performances of these companies’ securities may affect the overall investor sentiment towards other companies with business operations located mainly in China and listed in Hong Kong S.A.R. and/or the United States and consequently may impact the trading performance of our ADSs and/or Shares. In addition to market and industry factors, the prices and trading volumes for our ADSs and/or Shares may be highly volatile for specific reasons, including:
|●||variations in our results of operations or earnings that are not in line with market or securities research analyst expectations or changes in financial estimates by securities research analysts;|
|●||regulatory developments, including new laws and regulations issued and the overall trend of government enforcement actions;|
|●||publication of operating or industry metrics by third parties, including government statistical agencies, that differ from expectations of industry or securities research analysts;|
|●||announcements made by us or our competitors of new product and service offerings, acquisitions, strategic relationships, joint ventures or capital commitments;|
|●||media and other reports, whether or not comprehensive or true, about our business, Ant Group or our ecosystem participants, including negative reports published by short sellers, regardless of their veracity or materiality to us;|
|●||litigation and regulatory allegations or proceedings that involve us or our ecosystem participants;|
|●||changes in pricing we or our competitors adopt;|
|●||additions to or departures of our management or other key personnel;|
|●||actual or perceived general industry, regulatory, economic and business conditions and trends in China and globally, due to various reasons, including changes in geopolitical landscape;|
|●||some investors or analysts may invest in or value our ADSs and/or Shares based on the economic performance of the Chinese economy, which may not be correlated to our financial performance;|
|●||the inclusion, exclusion, or removal of our ADSs and/or Shares from market indices;|
|●||political or market instability or disruptions, pandemics or epidemics and other disruptions to China’s economy or the global economy, and actual or perceived social unrest in the United States, Hong Kong S.A.R. or other jurisdictions;|
|●||fluctuations of exchange rates among the Renminbi, the Hong Kong dollar and the U.S. dollar; and|
|●||sales or perceived potential sales or other dispositions of existing or additional ADSs and/or Shares or other equity or equity-linked securities.|
Any of these factors may result in large and sudden changes in the volume and trading prices of our ADSs and/or Shares. In addition, the stock market has from time to time experienced significant price and volume fluctuations that are unrelated to the operating performance of particular companies and industries. These fluctuations may include a so-called “bubble market” in which investors temporarily raise the price of the stocks of companies in certain industries, such as the technology industry, to unsustainable levels. These market fluctuations may significantly affect the trading prices of our ADSs and/or Shares. In the past, following periods of volatility in the market price of a company’s securities, shareholders have often instituted securities class action litigation against that company. We were named as a defendant in certain purported shareholder class action lawsuits described in “Item 8. Financial Information — A. Consolidated Statements and Other Financial Information — Legal and Administrative Proceedings.” The litigation process may utilize a material portion of our cash resources and divert management’s attention from our day-to-day operations, all of which could harm our business. If adversely determined, the class action suits may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Substantial future sales or perceived potential sales of our ADSs, Shares, or other equity or equity-linked securities in the public market could cause the price of our ADSs and/or Shares to decline significantly.
Sales of our ADSs, Shares, or other equity or equity-linked securities in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, could cause the market price of our ADSs and/or Shares to decline significantly. All of our Shares trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Shares represented by ADSs are freely transferable by persons other than our affiliates without restriction or additional registration under the U.S. Securities Act. The Shares held by our affiliates and other shareholders are also available for sale, subject to volume and other restrictions as applicable under Rules 144 and 701 under the U.S. Securities Act, under sales plans adopted pursuant to Rule 10b5-1 or otherwise.
According to public disclosure by SoftBank, one of our principal shareholders, SoftBank has monetized a significant amount of the Shares it owns in us through forward contracts and margin loans. The amount of our shares that SoftBank owns could decrease upon settlement of forward contracts or in the event of loan foreclosure. SoftBank could continue to monetize or sell more of our ADSs or Shares in the future. If SoftBank divests significant amounts of our ADSs, or further engages in derivative or other financing arrangements with respect to a significant amount of our ADSs or Shares, the price of our ADSs and/or Shares could decline significantly. News, market rumors or speculations about any SoftBank’s plans to divest our shares could also negatively affect the price of our ADS and/or Shares. Additional divestitures in the future of our ADSs and/or Shares by shareholders, announcements of any plan to divest our ADSs and/or Shares, or hedging activities by third-party financial institutions in connection with similar derivative or other financing arrangements entered into by shareholders, could also cause the price of our ADSs and/or Shares to decline.
Certain major holders of our ordinary shares, including SoftBank, have the right to cause us to register under the U.S. Securities Act the sale of their shares. Registration of these shares under the U.S. Securities Act would result in these shares and/or ADSs representing these shares becoming freely tradable without restriction under the U.S. Securities Act immediately upon the effectiveness of the registration. Sales of these registered shares in the form of ADSs in the public market could cause the price of our ADSs and/or Shares to decline significantly.
An active trading market for our ordinary shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, our ADSs on the NYSE and/or our other securities might not be sustained and trading prices of our ordinary shares, ADSs and/or our other securities might fluctuate significantly.
Since our listing in Hong Kong in 2019, we have consistently been one of the most actively-traded companies on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. However, we cannot assure you that an active trading market for our ordinary shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange will be sustained. In addition, we cannot assure you that an active trading market for our ADSs on the NYSE or for our other securities will be sustained. For example, since our listing in Hong Kong in 2019, investors have been converting our ADSs into Shares listed in Hong Kong. If our investors convert a significant portion of our ADSs into Shares listed in Hong Kong or if such conversions happen suddenly or at a rapid pace, the price and liquidity of our ADSs could be severely impacted. The trading price or liquidity for our ADSs on the NYSE and the trading price or liquidity for our ordinary shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in the past might not be indicative of those of our ADSs on the NYSE and our ordinary shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in the future. In addition, legislation, executive orders and other regulatory actions, such as the HFCA Act and U.S. Executive Order 13959, may cause our ADSs to be delisted from the NYSE. See “— Risks Related to Doing Business in the People’s Republic of China — If our auditor is sanctioned or otherwise penalized by the PCAOB or the SEC as a result of failure to comply with inspection or investigation requirements, our financial statements will be determined to be not in compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Exchange Act or other laws or rules in the United States, which could ultimately result in our ADSs being delisted and materially and adversely affect our other securities.” See also “— Risks Related to Our Business and Industry — Changes in international trade or investment policies and barriers to trade or investment, and any ongoing geopolitical conflict, may have an adverse effect on our business and expansion plans, and could lead to the delisting of our securities from U.S. exchanges and/or other restrictions or prohibitions on investing in our securities.” If an active trading market of our ordinary shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, our ADSs on the NYSE or our other securities is not sustained, the market price and liquidity of our ordinary shares, our ADSs or our other securities, could be materially and adversely affected, and there may be difficulties in enforcing obligations with respect to our other securities.
In 2014, the Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen Stock Exchanges collaborated to create an inter-exchange trading mechanism called Stock Connect that allows international and mainland Chinese investors to trade eligible equity securities listed in each other’s markets through the trading and clearing facilities of their home exchange. Stock Connect allows certain mainland Chinese investors to trade directly in eligible equity securities listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, known as Southbound Trading. If a company’s shares are not considered eligible, they cannot be traded through Stock Connect. It is unclear whether and when the ordinary shares of our company will be eligible to be traded through Stock Connect, if at all. The ineligibility of our ordinary shares for trading through Stock Connect will affect certain mainland Chinese investors’ ability to trade our ordinary shares.
The different characteristics of the capital markets in Hong Kong S.A.R. and the U.S. may negatively affect the trading prices of our ADSs and Shares.
As a dual-listed company, we are subject to Hong Kong and NYSE listing and regulatory requirements concurrently. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the NYSE have different trading hours, trading characteristics (including trading volume and liquidity), trading and listing rules, and investor bases (including different levels of retail and institutional participation). As a result of these differences, the trading prices of our ADSs and our Shares may not be the same, even allowing for currency differences. Fluctuations in the price of our ADSs due to circumstances peculiar to the U.S. capital markets could materially and adversely affect the price of the Shares, or vice versa. Certain events having significant negative impact specifically on the U.S. capital markets may result in a decline in the trading price of our Shares notwithstanding that such event may not impact the trading prices of securities listed in Hong Kong generally or to the same extent, or vice versa.
We may in the future conduct a public offering and listing of our equity securities in Shanghai or Shenzhen, which may result in increased regulatory scrutiny and compliance costs as well as increased fluctuations in the prices of our ADSs and Shares.
We may conduct a public offering and/or listing of our equity securities on a stock exchange in Shanghai or Shenzhen in the future. We have not set a specific timetable or decided on any specific form for an offering in Shanghai or Shenzhen and may not ultimately conduct an offering and listing. The precise timing of the offering and/or listing of our equity securities in Shanghai or Shenzhen would depend on a number of factors, including relevant regulatory developments and market conditions. If we complete a public offering or listing in Shanghai or Shenzhen, we would become subject to the applicable laws, rules and regulations governing public companies listed in Shanghai or Shenzhen, in addition to the various laws, rules and regulations that we are subject to in the United States and Hong Kong S.A.R. as a dual-listed company. The listing and trading of our equity securities in multiple jurisdictions and multiple markets may lead to increased compliance costs for us, and we may face the risk of significant intervention by regulatory authorities in these jurisdictions and markets.
In addition, under current PRC laws, rules and regulations, the ADSs and Shares, will not be interchangeable or fungible with any equity securities we may decide to list on a stock exchange in Shanghai or Shenzhen, and there is no trading or settlement between either the NYSE or the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and stock exchanges in Shanghai or Shenzhen. Furthermore, the NYSE, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and stock exchanges in Shanghai or Shenzhen have different trading characteristics and investor bases, including different levels of retail and institutional participation. As a result of these differences, the trading prices of our ADSs and Shares, accounting for the ADS ratio, may not be the same as the trading prices of any equity securities we may decide to offer and/or list in Shanghai or Shenzhen. The issuance of a separate class of shares and fluctuations in its trading price may also lead to increased volatility in, and may otherwise materially decrease, the prices of our ADSs and Shares.
Our shareholders may face difficulties in protecting their interests, and the ability of our shareholders, the SEC, the U.S. Department of Justice, and other U.S. authorities to bring actions against us may be limited in the foreign jurisdictions where we operate.
We are incorporated in the Cayman Islands and conduct a substantial portion of our operations in China through our subsidiaries and the VIEs. Most of our directors and substantially all of our executive officers reside outside the United States and Hong Kong S.A.R. and a substantial portion of their assets are located outside of the United States and Hong Kong S.A.R. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for our shareholders (including holders of our ADSs and Shares) to bring an action against us or against these individuals in the Cayman Islands or in China in the event that they believe that their rights have been infringed under the securities laws of the United States, Hong Kong S.A.R. or otherwise. Even if shareholders are successful in bringing an action of this kind, the laws of the Cayman Islands and China may render them unable to enforce a judgment against our assets or the assets of our directors and officers. There is no statutory recognition in the Cayman Islands of judgments obtained in the United States, Hong Kong S.A.R. or China, although the courts of the Cayman Islands will generally recognize and enforce a non-penal judgment of a foreign court of competent jurisdiction without retrial on the merits.
Our corporate affairs are governed by our Memorandum and Articles of Association, and by the Companies Act as well as common law of the Cayman Islands. The rights of shareholders to take legal action against us and our directors, actions by minority shareholders and the fiduciary duties of our directors are to a large extent governed by the common law of the Cayman Islands. The common law of the Cayman Islands is derived in part from comparatively limited judicial precedent in the Cayman Islands as well as from English common law, which provides persuasive, but not binding, authority in a court in the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders and the fiduciary duties of our directors under Cayman Islands law are not as clearly established as they would be under statutes or judicial precedents in the United States and Hong Kong S.A.R. In particular, the Cayman Islands has a less-developed body of securities laws than the United States and Hong Kong S.A.R. and provides significantly less protection to investors. In addition, shareholders in Cayman Islands companies may not have standing to initiate a shareholder derivative action in U.S. federal courts or Hong Kong courts.
Our Articles provide that in the event that any shareholder initiates or asserts any claim or counterclaim against us, or joins, offers substantial assistance to or has a direct financial interest in any claim or counterclaim against us, and does not obtain a judgment on the merits in which the initiating or asserting party prevails, then the shareholder will be obligated to reimburse us for all fees, costs and expenses (including, but not limited to, all reasonable attorneys’ fees and other litigation expenses) that we may incur in connection with such claim or counterclaim. These fees, costs and expenses that may be shifted to a shareholder under this provision are potentially significant and this fee-shifting provision is not limited to specific types of actions, but is rather potentially applicable to the fullest extent permitted by law.
Our fee-shifting provision may dissuade or discourage our shareholders (and their attorneys) from initiating lawsuits or claims against us or may impact the fees, contingency or otherwise, required by attorneys to represent our shareholders. Fee-shifting provisions such as ours are relatively new and untested. There can be no assurance that we will or will not invoke our fee-shifting provision in any particular dispute, or that we will be successful in obtaining fees if we choose to invoke the provision.
In addition, our Articles are specific to us and include certain provisions that may be different from common practices in Hong Kong, such as the absence of requirements that the appointment, removal and remuneration of auditors must be approved by a majority of our shareholders, and the minimum shareholding required to requisition an extraordinary general meeting is one-third of the voting rights of our issued shares which are entitled to vote at general meetings, as opposed to the threshold of 10% voting rights in Hong Kong.
Furthermore, due to jurisdictional limitations, matters of comity and various other factors, the ability of U.S. authorities, such as the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice, or the DOJ, to investigate and bring enforcement actions against companies may be limited in foreign jurisdictions, including China. Local laws may constrain our and our directors’ and officers’ ability to cooperate with such an investigation or action. For example, according to Article 177 of the PRC Securities Law, which became effective in March 2020, no overseas securities regulator is allowed to directly conduct investigations or evidence collection activities within the territory of the PRC. Accordingly, without the consent of the competent PRC securities regulators and relevant authorities, no organization or individual may provide documents or materials relating to securities business activities to overseas parties. As a result of the foregoing, our public shareholders may have more difficulty in protecting their interests through actions against us, our management, our directors, our officers or our major shareholders, than they otherwise would with respect to a corporation incorporated in a jurisdiction in the United States or Hong Kong S.A.R. Shareholder protection through actions by the SEC, DOJ and other U.S. authorities also may be limited.
As a foreign private issuer in the United States, we are permitted to and we will, rely on exemptions from certain NYSE corporate governance standards applicable to domestic U.S. issuers. This may afford less protection to holders of our ADSs.
We are exempted from certain corporate governance requirements of the NYSE by virtue of being a foreign private issuer in the United States. We are required to provide a brief description of the significant differences between our corporate governance practices and the corporate governance practices required to be followed by domestic U.S. companies listed on the NYSE. The standards applicable to us are considerably different than the standards applied to domestic U.S. issuers. For instance, we are not required to:
|●||have a majority of the board be independent (although all of the members of the audit committee must be independent under the U.S. Exchange Act);|
|●||have a compensation committee or a nominating or corporate governance committee consisting entirely of independent directors;|
|●||have regularly scheduled executive sessions for non-management directors; or|
|●||have executive sessions of solely independent directors each year.|
We have relied on and intend to continue to rely on some of these exemptions. As a result, holders of our ADSs may not be provided with the benefits of certain corporate governance requirements of the NYSE.
As a foreign private issuer in the United States, we are exempt from certain disclosure requirements under the U.S. Exchange Act, which may afford less protection to holders of our ADSs than they would enjoy if we were a domestic U.S. company.
As a foreign private issuer in the United States, we are exempt from, among other things, the rules prescribing the furnishing and content of proxy statements under the U.S. Exchange Act and the rules relating to selective disclosure of material nonpublic information under Regulation FD under the U.S. Exchange Act. In addition, our executive officers, directors and principal shareholders are exempt from the reporting and short-swing profit and recovery provisions contained in Section 16 of the U.S. Exchange Act. We are also not required under the U.S. Exchange Act to file periodic reports and financial statements with the SEC as frequently or as promptly as domestic U.S. companies with securities registered under the U.S. Exchange Act. For example, in addition to annual reports with audited financial statements, domestic U.S. companies are required to file with the SEC quarterly reports that include interim financial statements reviewed by an independent registered public accounting firm and certified by the companies’ principal executive and financial officers. By contrast, as a foreign private issuer, we are not required to file such quarterly reports with the SEC or to provide quarterly certifications by our principal executive and financial officers. As a result, holders of our ADSs may be afforded less protection than they would under the U.S. Exchange Act rules applicable to domestic U.S. companies.
We adopt different practices as to certain matters as compared with many other companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
We completed our public offering in Hong Kong in November 2019 and the trading of our Shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange commenced on November 26, 2019 under the stock code “9988.” As a company listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange pursuant to Chapter 19C of the Hong Kong Listing Rules, we are not subject to certain provisions of the Hong Kong Listing Rules pursuant to Rule 19C.11, including, among others, rules on notifiable transactions, connected transactions, share option schemes, content of financial statements as well as certain other continuing obligations. In addition, in connection with the listing of our Shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, we have been granted a number of waivers and/or exemptions from strict compliance with the Hong Kong Listing Rules, the Companies (WUMP) Ordinance, the Takeovers Codes and the SFO. As a result, we adopt different practices as to those matters, including with respect to the content and presentation of our annual reports and interim reports, as compared with other companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that do not enjoy those exemptions or waivers.
Furthermore, if 55% or more of the total worldwide trading volume, by dollar value, of our Shares and ADSs over our most recent fiscal year takes place on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange will regard us as having a dual primary listing in Hong Kong and we will no longer enjoy certain exemptions or waivers from strict compliance with the requirements under the Hong Kong Listing Rules, the Companies (WUMP) Ordinance, the Takeovers Codes and the SFO, which could result in our needing to undertake additional compliance activities, to devote additional resources to comply with new requirements, and our incurring of incremental compliance costs.
The voting rights of holders of our ADSs are limited by the terms of the Deposit Agreement.
Holders of our ADSs may exercise their voting rights with respect to the ordinary shares underlying their ADSs only in accordance with the provisions of the Deposit Agreement. Upon receipt of voting instructions from them in the manner set forth in the Deposit Agreement, the depositary for our ADSs will endeavor to vote their underlying ordinary shares in accordance with these instructions. Under our Articles of Association, the minimum notice period required for convening a general meeting is ten days. When a general meeting is convened, holders of our ADSs may not receive sufficient notice of a shareholders’ meeting to permit them to withdraw their ordinary shares to allow them to cast their votes with respect to any specific matter at the meeting. In addition, the depositary and its agents may not be able to send voting instructions to holders of our ADSs or carry out their voting instructions in a timely manner. We will make all reasonable efforts to cause the depositary to extend voting rights to holders of our ADSs in a timely manner, but they may not receive the voting materials in time to ensure that they can instruct the depositary to vote the ordinary shares underlying their ADSs. Furthermore, the depositary and its agents will not be responsible for any failure to carry out any instructions to vote, for the manner in which any vote is cast or for the effect of any vote. As a result, holders of our ADSs may not be able to exercise their rights to vote and they may lack recourse if the ordinary shares underlying their ADSs are not voted as they requested.
The depositary for our ADSs will give us a discretionary proxy to vote our ordinary shares underlying the ADSs if holders of these ADSs do not give voting instructions to the depositary, except in limited circumstances, which could adversely affect the interests of holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs.
Under the Deposit Agreement for our ADSs, the depositary will give us a discretionary proxy to vote the ordinary shares underlying the ADSs at shareholders’ meetings if holders of these ADSs do not give voting instructions to the depositary, unless:
|●||we have failed to timely provide the depositary with our notice of meeting and related voting materials;|
|●||we have instructed the depositary that we do not wish a discretionary proxy to be given;|
|●||we have informed the depositary that there is substantial opposition as to a matter to be voted on at the meeting;|
|●||a matter to be voted on at the meeting would have a material adverse impact on shareholders; or|
|●||voting at the meeting is made on a show of hands.|
The effect of this discretionary proxy is that, if holders of our ADSs fail to give voting instructions to the depositary, they cannot prevent our ordinary shares underlying their ADSs from being voted, absent the situations described above, and it may make it more difficult for shareholders to influence our management. Holders of our ordinary shares are not subject to this discretionary proxy.
Holders of our ADSs may be subject to limitations on transfer of their ADSs.
ADSs are transferable on the books of the depositary. However, the depositary may close its transfer books at any time or from time to time when it deems expedient in connection with the performance of its duties. In addition, the depositary may refuse to deliver, transfer or register transfers of ADSs generally when our books or the books of the depositary are closed, or at any time if we or the depositary deems it advisable to do so because of any requirement of law or of any government or governmental body, or under any provision of the Deposit Agreement, or for any other reason.
Holders of our ADSs may not receive distributions on our ordinary shares or any value for them if it is illegal or impractical to make them available to them.
The depositary of our ADSs has agreed to pay holders of our ADSs the cash dividends or other distributions it or the custodian for our ADSs receives on our ordinary shares or other deposited securities after deducting its fees and expenses. Holders of our ADSs will receive these distributions in proportion to the number of our ordinary shares that their ADSs represent. However, the depositary is not responsible for making these payments or distributions if it is unlawful or impractical to make a distribution available to any holders of ADSs. For example, it would be unlawful to make a distribution to a holder of ADSs if the distribution consists of securities that require registration under the U.S. Securities Act but that are not properly registered or distributed pursuant to an applicable exemption from registration. The depositary is not responsible for making a distribution available to any holders of ADSs if any government approval or registration required for the distribution cannot be obtained after reasonable efforts made by the depositary. We have no obligation to take any other action to permit the distribution of our ADSs, ordinary shares, rights or anything else to holders of our ADSs. This means that holders of our ADSs may not receive the distributions we make on our ordinary shares or any value for them if it is illegal or impractical for us to make them available. These restrictions may materially reduce the value of the ADSs.
Exchange between our Shares and our ADSs may adversely affect the liquidity and/or trading price of each other.
Our ADSs are currently traded on the NYSE. Subject to compliance with U.S. securities law and the terms of the Deposit Agreement, holders of our Shares may deposit Shares with the depositary in exchange for the issuance of our ADSs. Any holder of ADSs may also withdraw the Shares underlying the ADSs pursuant to the terms of the Deposit Agreement for trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. In the event that a substantial number of Shares are deposited with the depositary in exchange for ADSs or vice versa, the liquidity and trading price of our Shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and our ADSs on the NYSE may be adversely affected.
The time required for the exchange between ADSs and Shares might be longer than expected and investors might not be able to settle or effect any sale of their securities during this period, and the exchange of Shares into ADSs involves costs.
There is no direct trading or settlement between the NYSE and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on which our ADSs and the Shares are respectively traded. In addition, the time differences between Hong Kong S.A.R. and New York and unforeseen market circumstances or other factors may delay the deposit of Shares in exchange of ADSs or the withdrawal of Shares underlying the ADSs. Investors will be prevented from settling or effecting the sale of their securities during such periods of delay. In addition, there is no assurance that any exchange of Shares into ADSs (and vice versa) will be completed in accordance with the timelines investors may anticipate.
Furthermore, the depositary for the ADSs is entitled to charge holders fees for various services including for the issuance of ADSs upon deposit of Shares, cancelation of ADSs, distributions of cash dividends or other cash distributions, distributions of ADSs pursuant to share dividends or other free share distributions, distributions of securities other than ADSs and annual service fees. As a result, shareholders who exchange Shares into ADSs, and vice versa, may not achieve the level of economic return the shareholders may anticipate.
We may be or may become a passive foreign investment company, which could result in adverse United States federal income tax consequences to United States investors.
Based on the past and projected composition of our income and assets, and the valuation of our assets, including goodwill, we do not believe we were a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC, for our most recent taxable year, and we do not expect to become a PFIC in the current taxable year or the foreseeable future, although there can be no assurance in this regard. The determination of whether or not we are a PFIC is made on an annual basis and will depend on the composition of our income and assets and the valuation of our assets from time to time. Specifically, we will be classified as a PFIC for United States federal income tax purposes for any taxable year if either: (i) 75% or more of our gross income for that taxable year is passive income, or (ii) at least 50% of the value (generally determined on a quarterly basis) of our assets for that taxable year is attributable to assets that produce or are held for the production of passive income. The calculation of the value of our assets will be based, in part, on the quarterly market value of our ADSs, which is subject to change. Therefore, a decrease in the price of our ADSs may result in our becoming a PFIC. See “Item 10. Additional Information — E. Taxation — Material United States Federal Income Tax Considerations — Passive Foreign Investment Company.”
In addition, it is not entirely clear how the contractual arrangements between us and the VIEs will be treated for purposes of the PFIC rules. If it were determined that we do not own the stock of the VIEs for United States federal income tax purposes (for example, because the relevant PRC authorities do not respect these arrangements), we may be treated as a PFIC. See “Item 10. Additional Information — E. Taxation — Material United States Federal Income Tax Considerations — Passive Foreign Investment Company.”
If we are or were to become a PFIC, there may be adverse United States federal income tax consequences to our shareholders and holders of our ADSs that are United States investors. For example, if we are a PFIC for any taxable year during which any such United States investor holds our ADSs or ordinary shares, such United States investor may become subject to increased tax liabilities under United States federal income tax laws and regulations, and will become subject to burdensome reporting requirements. There can be no assurance that we will not be a PFIC for the current or any future taxable year. You are urged to consult your own tax advisors concerning the United States federal income tax consequences of the application of the PFIC rules. See “Item 10. Additional Information — E. Taxation — Material United States Federal Income Tax Considerations — Passive Foreign Investment Company.”
There is uncertainty as to whether Hong Kong stamp duty will apply to the trading or conversion of our ADSs.
In connection with the public offering of our ordinary shares in Hong Kong in November 2019, or the Hong Kong IPO, we established a branch register of members in Hong Kong, or the Hong Kong share register. Our ordinary shares that are traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, including those issued in the Hong Kong IPO and those that may be converted from ADSs, are registered on the Hong Kong share register, and the trading of these ordinary shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange are subject to the Hong Kong stamp duty. To facilitate ADS-ordinary share conversion and trading between the NYSE and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, we have moved a portion of our issued ordinary shares from our Cayman share register to our Hong Kong share register.
Under the Hong Kong Stamp Duty Ordinance, any person who effects any sale or purchase of Hong Kong stock, defined as stock the transfer of which is required to be registered in Hong Kong, is required to pay Hong Kong stamp duty. The stamp duty is currently set at a total rate of 0.26% of the greater of the consideration for, or the value of, shares transferred, with 0.13% payable by each of the buyer and the seller.
To the best of our knowledge, Hong Kong stamp duty has not been levied in practice on the trading or conversion of ADSs of companies that are listed in both the United States and Hong Kong S.A.R. and that have maintained all or a portion of their ordinary shares, including ordinary shares underlying ADSs, in their Hong Kong share registers. However, it is unclea