Meme equity investor Ryan Cohen launches activist campaign at Alibaba

Ryan Cohen, the investor popular among meme stock traders, is urging Alibaba to accelerate its share buyback plan after acquiring a minority stake in the Chinese e-commerce group.

The exact size of the stake could not be determined, but people familiar with the matter put it at hundreds of millions of dollars. Cohen began lobbying Alibaba in the second half of last year, which has a market capitalization of more than $300 billion.

Cohen is one of the most prominent figures in the retail boom, spearheading the stock market rallies of companies such as GameStop and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

News of his position, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes a few months after Alibaba announced it would add $15 billion in firepower to its share buyback program, which runs through the end of fiscal year 2025.

It’s unclear how influential Cohen has been in urging Alibaba to take action, given the size of his stake relative to the company’s market value. However, its popularity among social media retail investors could force the company to pay more attention to its demands to avoid targeting its followers.

A representative for Cohen declined to comment.

Alibaba has struggled recently, in part due to the impact of China’s strict zero-Covid lockdowns, which hurt consumer spending, and a tougher regulatory environment in its home market. Alibaba paid a record $2.8 billion in antitrust fines in 2021 and pledged to end the practice of forcing some of its merchants to stay away from rival e-commerce platforms.

Alibaba’s share price has fallen more than 60 percent since its peak in late 2020 due to several headwinds, including government action to block the listing of sister company Ant Group two years ago.

Shares of Alibaba ended 1 percent higher in Hong Kong on Tuesday after Cohen’s stake was announced.

Cohen built his fortune as a co-founder of Chewy, the pet supply retailer he sold for $3.35 billion in 2017. what many consider one of the catalysts for the retailer’s meme stock rally.

The 37-year-old’s investment in a Chinese company comes as many investors have reduced their exposure to the country following Beijing’s crackdown on technology.

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