China's biggest e-commerce company posted adjusted earnings-per-share of 4.35 yuan (HK$4.91), missing the 4.51 yuan average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That came even as revenue rose at a faster-than-expected 60 percent to 38.6 billion yuan. Shares of Alibaba fell as much as 3.9 percent in pre-market trade before recovering.
While Chinese consumption remains strong, the country's economy showed signs of cooling as retail sales and industrial output growth slowed in April with regulators cracking down on rising financial leverage. Alibaba has expanded into new areas in response to a decelerating home economy, buying control of Lazada Group to gain a Southeast Asian foothold and waging a price-based war with Tencent Holdings in cloud computing services.
"The March quarter is usually a slow season for e-commerce so margins usually come down a bit," said Ray Zhao, a Shenzhen-based analyst at Guotai Junan Securities. "Alibaba is spending a lot to drive growth in video and entertainment."
It is also trying to appeal to a growing middle class demanding premium products from Alaskan salmon to New Zealand milk.
Growing Chinese affluence is propelling founder Jack Ma Yun's international expansion, which includes helping a million American businesses tap Chinese consumers and reaching foreign shoppers through AliExpress.
Income tax expenses spiked 149 percent to 4.6 billion yuan in the March quarter. Alibaba's effective tax rate rose to 29 percent from 23 percent a year earlier, when it set aside a portion of its earnings as non-taxable reinvestment capital. It also paid additional taxes as it sold certain unspecified investments.