Bigger Gains Ahead for Our "Single-Stock Wealth Machine"

Editor's Note: Bill's paid-up Private Briefing readers have had the chance to bank gains as high as 210% on one of his favorite e-commerce plays. Bill's writing about the recent "shake-up at the top" there, which may very well mean these millionaire-minting shares hit his profit targets even faster. Here he is...

If you couldn't tell, I'm a fan of Jack Ma.

The Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (NYSE: BABA) founder is the "maestro of innovation," who turned just another Chinese e-commerce outfit into a world-beating heavyweight that could give Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) a run for its money.

This past weekend, the company confirmed that Ma will be turning Alibaba's reins over to CEO Daniel Zhang next year - and will step away from the company board in 2020.

Ma, trained as an English schoolteacher, will turn his focus to philanthropy and education - and will pursue "new dreams."

This succession at the top of Asia's most valuable company must feel quite disconcerting - especially coming, as it does, amid a scary trade spat between Washington and Beijing.

But I'm here to tell you: It doesn't matter.

In fact, it could well be viewed as a positive - since there's actually a succession plan in place.

That's not always the case, you see.

And the lack of such a plan is not a good thing - not a good thing at all.

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A Solid Plan Can Make or Break a Company's Stock

Years ago, back during my business journalism days, I was covering the financial-services sector - and one of the companies on my "beat" was a long-successful brokerage/mutual-fund firm that had been run for decades by the same CEO.

Now, this CEO was one sharp dude. But when I started raising the issue of succession in a series of interviews I was doing with the company, everyone got quite testy with me.

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I didn't get it - didn't get it at all.

I mean, to me it just made sense to have a "game plan" for when this CEO eventually retired. And as this gent was in his late 60s at the time, he would eventually retire.

And there's always the chance that something unexpected can happen.

In 1994, Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) President Frank G. Wells - the architect of one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in history - was killed when the helicopter he was riding in crashed.

Wells, a Rhodes scholar and former entertainment lawyer, toiled in the shadow of Disney CEO Michael Eisner, but operated as a crucial "wingman" when the two joined the entertainment giant in 1984 after the company was nearly broken up in a battle for control.

But Wells helped guide a turnaround that took Disney's market value from $2 billion when he joined to $22 billion in 1992.

His death roiled the waters in a sector where executive stability was rare.

Something similar happened in 1989, when three top execs of Trump Casinos - including the CEO - were killed when a helicopter they were riding in crashed in New Jersey.

When it comes to public companies, investors love "visibility" - Wall Street parlance for predictability. And they hate - and I mean, hate - unpredictability.

And with public companies, one form of unpredictability is the lack of a succession plan.

With the public company I was covering - and questioning - I ended up having the last laugh.

Though I was long gone (I'd moved on to my new career as a newsletter guru) when I was proved "right."

A few years after I'd moved on, mounting pressure induced the CEO to name a successor and then to retire.

Maybe waiting so long to publicly name this successor - and, in waiting, not really having the chance to groom the CEO-to-be - played a role in what happened. I can't say for sure. But the fact is that the successor was eventually forced to resign by an activist investor. And the company's shares are trading at half their peak value of a few years ago - despite the greatest bull market in history.

So what does this have to do with Alibaba?


You see, unlike some of these other companies, Alibaba most definitely has a succession plan.

And that's a very good thing.

Ma Is the Man with the Magic Touch

Jack Ma is famous for having founded in his apartment nearly two decades ago. He and 17 partners started it as a business-to-business marketplace. But an investment by Japan's SoftBank Group Corp. (OCTMKTS: SFTBF) fueled its rise - enabling the firm to move into the consumer sector.

Ma ceded the CEO's spot in 2013 and used the chair's role to develop the managerial talent below him.

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He made Daniel Zhang - a Shanghai-educated CPA - the CEO in 2015. Zhang was the architect of Alibaba's "New Retail" strategy - which is combining the online and brick-and-mortar worlds in a way that has a "magnifier" effect for Alibaba. Now Zhang and 35 other partners will continue to run the company.

"Starting the process of passing the Alibaba torch to Daniel and his team is the right decision at the right time, because I know from working with them that they are ready," Ma said in the statement. "Since he took over as CEO, he has demonstrated his superb talent, business acumen, and determined leadership."

Zhang scored a coup when he created the company's "Single's Day" event - which is one of the highest-grossing sales days in the world.

During Zhang's reign as CEO, Alibaba's stock has skyrocketed 87%, taking the company's market value to a hefty $420 billion, Bloomberg reported.

Alibaba has moved into cloud computing, digital payments, healthcare, Hollywood movies, venture investments, and artificial intelligence.

And importantly, it has avoided many of the scandals that have afflicted many of China's top firms.

Even after he steps down, Ma will likely still play a role in guiding Alibaba, Brock Silvers, managing director of Kaiyuan Capital International, told Bloomberg.

"On a day-to-day basis, Alibaba shareholders probably have little to fear," he told the news service.

Why I Call BABA the Single-Stock Wealth Machine

This is a company we knew would be big - even before the tech and e-commerce titan went public in a then-record $21.8 billion offering here in the U.S. market back in September 2014.

We knew this because it was an innovator.

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Alibaba went public at $68 and saw its shares open trading at $92.70. The stock soared to $120 a share in the months that followed.

Then it sold off... in a big way.

Alibaba was suddenly an "out of favor" stock - a classic "contrarian" play.

We pounced.

In January 2016, with the shares trading at $69, I re-recommended them - rating the shares a "Strong Buy."

As I write this, the shares are at $161 - up 132% from when we first told you about them.

And you ain't seen nothin' yet.

The stock has been as high as $211.70 - meaning it's experiencing just the kind of pullback we told you to take advantage of.

Time to pounce once again. Because over the long haul, this stock is going higher.

Much higher.

There's a reason I like this stock so much - even taking the rare step of recommending Alibaba before its IPO and detailing what we referred to as the "Alibaba Shockwave Effect."

We know China will eventually become the world's No. 1 digital commerce market. And we believe Alibaba will be the company that dominates that market.

All of this positions Alibaba's shares as one of the single greatest wealth opportunities of our lifetime - meaning it's a stock you have to own.

It's a message we just keep coming back to - for this reason: Every single share of Alibaba stock you buy today for $163 will be worth $2.1 million four decades-plus from now.

That's right: One share of Alibaba bought today can turn you into a millionaire down the road.

This company has a grand game plan that will make that happen.

And having a sound succession plan is part of that.

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About the Author

Before he moved into the investment-research business in 2005, William (Bill) Patalon III spent 22 years as an award-winning financial reporter, columnist, and editor. Today he is the Executive Editor and Senior Research Analyst for Money Morning at Money Map Press.

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