Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche


Is Amazon Really Responsible for the Retail Apocalypse?

The latest earnings data indicates that Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has grown to an incredible size, making Jeff Bezos the world’s richest man in the process. Since this comes as speculation that the retail apocalypse will kill off 8,000 to 10,000 US stores in 2017 is rife, it will rekindle criticism of the Everything Store.

Amazon and Bezos make obvious scapegoats but data indicates neither is responsible for the Apocalypse. Forrester predicted that the US retail market will grow to $3.56 trillion in 2017, MarketWatch reported. Amazon reported revenues of $161.15 billion on September 30, 2017, meaning its’ total sales are less than one half of one percent of total U.S. retail.

Amazon is certainly having an impact but it is definitely not large enough to cause such a paradigm shift in American shopping habits. Although online retail is having a huge impact, Forrester calculated that total U.S. online sales will reach $459 billion in 2017 or around 11% of the total.

Bezos’ wealth is a threat to Amazon

Despite that Amazon’s relentless growth is incredible and it will certainly generate a lot of publicity and news coverage. Particularly since Jeff Bezos is now the world’s richest man.

That might make Bezos as hated as the most famous American to hold that title; John D. Rockefeller Senior. Rockefeller was a decent and honorable man, a devout Baptist who regularly attended church, a good family man, and a philanthropist who helped a lot of people. He was also the most hated robber baron of the Gilded Age and a scapegoat in an earlier era of income inequality.

News stories like the coverage of the $10.4 billion Bezos made from stock appreciation on October 27 are likely to drive such demonization. Americans will need a scapegoat for the lousy economy and Bezos will make a great scapegoat. Something the demonizer in chief in the White House has already noticed.

Donald J. Trump (R-New York) in particular is likely to turn his Twitter wrath on Bezos as his presidency keeps falling apart and voters turn on him. He has long been a critic of both Bezos and The Washington Post, which Jeff owns. Other politicians such as U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont); the self-appointed critic of “the billionaire class,” are likely to join in as election time approaches.

Like Rockefeller, Bezos is basically a decent person who wants to use his money to help. Unfortunately, that money makes him a target, particularly of the have-nots who need a scapegoat for their own failures. One of those have-nots is now in the White House, and many others are roaming the halls of Congress.

Politicians will have another reason to target Bezos. They will see him as a cash cow to shake down for donations in a political environment where election costs are spiraling out of control.

Therefore it is only a matter of time before we see regulation and legislation aimed at Amazon. Bezos himself is likely to be the object of witch hunts in the media and Congress just as Rockefeller was, especially if Amazon’s Amazing Growth continues.

Amazon’s Amazing Revenue Growth

The truly incredible aspect of the Amazon story is the revenue growth, which is almost unbelievable.

Amazon added $11.03 billion in revenue during third quarter 2017; that’s almost as much as all of JC Penney’s (NYSE: JCP), revenues which were $12.49 billion on 31 July 2017. The Everything Store’s revenues grew by $33.16 billion in the four quarters between September 2016 and September 2017. That’s $8 billion more than Macy’s (NYSE: M) total revenues, which were $25.03 billion on 31 Jul 2017.

Amazon’s total revenues reached $161.15 billion on September 30, 2017. That makes Amazon America’s third latest retailer in terms of revenue. Number one was Walmart (NYSE: WMT) which reported $490.01 billion in revenues on July 31, 2017. Number two is CVS Health (NYSE: CVS) which reported $180.78 billion in revenue on June 30, 2017.

If the current growth rate is repeated Amazon will become America’s number two retailer in second quarter 2017. That means it would have around $184 billion in revenue then. Growth at rate means Amazon will report $200 billion in revenue sometime next year, probably in the third quarter.

Those who doubt that should check the record. Amazon reported $127.99 billion in revenues on September 30, 2016; $135.99 billion on December 31, 2016, and $150.12 billion in June 2017. The company has been adding $10 and $12 billion in revenue a quarter.

This will certainly attract the attention of critics of monopoly and accusations of “too big to fail.” The literary crowd; led by authors like James Patterson and Stephen King who fear Amazon is hurting their ability to make money from bestsellers, has been making those allegations for years now they are seeping into the mainstream.

Amazon is still a Lousy Investment

The numbers prove that Amazon is an extraordinary company but a lousy investment. The sorry truth is that Amazon is not making that money off all that revenue and growth.

It only made $16.25 billion in cash from operations on 30 September 2017. That’s terrible when compared to Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG); which reported $21.02 billion in cash from operations on revenues of $104.60 billion on the same day.

For a company of its’ size, many of Amazon’s cash figures are absolutely terrible. For example, it reported a net income of just $1.926 billion on September 30, 2017. That figure is lower than the $2.104 billion reported in September 2016.

There was also a free cash flow of $1.191 billion on September 30, 2017. That was also about half the $2.818 billion from a year earlier.

Amazon is taking on a Lot of Debt

Most bothersome of all was the $12.74 billion in cash from financing reported on September 30, 2017. That figure was $17.54 billion higher than the -$4.84 billion reported in September 2016.

This means that Amazon is borrowing a lot of money to build all those new fulfillment centers and create all those new jobs. That’s a good deal for the people who work at those centers and buyers of Amazon debt like Warren Buffett. It will be a lousy deal for Amazon stockholders because that debt will have to be paid.

Most bothersome is the way the debt is suddenly increasing. That isn’t necessarily a sign of a bubble, but it is a symptom of questionable financing practices. To be fair, those practices have worked out for Jeff in the past.

There is one good cash figure at Amazon and that is the cash and short-term investments. Amazon reported $24.31 billion in the bank on September 30, 2017. It is a cash-rich company, which makes more acquisitions and expansions likely. Unfortunately, all that cash can be used to finance more borrowing.

There will be no Amazon Dividend

All of this means that there will be no Amazon dividend in the foreseeable future. The company simply lacks the money to pay a dividend, Amazon needs every cent it can raise to cover operations costs and pay off loans.

That also makes Amazon a very lousy investment; it was astronomically overpriced at $1,095 a share on November 2, 2017, there was no dividend, and a return on equity of 9.03% on 30 September. Meanwhile, Walmart was trading at $88.81 a share on the same day. Walmart offered investors a return on equity of 16.66% on 30 July and has a 51¢ dividend scheduled for December 7, 2017.

Amazon is an extraordinary company that is making itself a big target for politicians and journalists. Yet at the end of the day, the Everything Store is still a very lousy investment.