Market Mad House

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

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Is Amazon Really Worth $524 a Share?

Yes, folks, the great Ben Graham was right; Mr. Market is completely insane. Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) was trading at $524.13 a share on the afternoon of September 9, 2015.

That share price gave Amazon a market capitalization of $245.14 billion, or more than Walmart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), which had a market cap of $211.3 billion on the same day. That did not mean Amazon was worth more than Walmart as some misguided pundits have claimed; Walmart’s enterprise value of $255.61 billion still exceeds Amazon’s $236.31 billion.

Yet these figures got me wondering: What exactly are investors getting for their money? Is this stock really worth $524 a share, or is this simply an example of Mr. Market’s complete insanity? I lean towards the insanity theory, but there are a few fascinating numbers at Amazon from a value investment standpoint.

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Like It or Hate It, Amazon Is Flush with Cash

When I investigated Amazon at YCharts, I did notice something very fascinating; whether you like it or hate it, Amazon is raking in a lot of cash. For all its problems, Amazon looks like it is generating a lot of float.

Here are a few numbers that show us that Amazon is generating a staggering amount of cash. On June 30, 2015, Amazon reported the following:

  • A TTM revenue of $95.18 billion
  • $8.98 billion cash from operations
  • $14 billion in cash and short-term investments
  • $3.452 billion in cash from financing
  • A revenue growth rate of 19.88%
  • A quarterly revenue of $48.71 billion
  • A free cash flow of $784 million

Obviously, Amazon’s problem is not making money; it is keeping money. Amazon also reported a net income of -$188 million and capital expenditures of $4.607 billion. If that was not bad enough, it reported total liabilities of $40.67 billion. Amazon also lost -$6.634 billion in cash from financing.

It is easy to see why Amazon does not pay a dividend; it has no money to pay out. Jeff Bezos spends all of his cash the minute he gets his hands on it and then goes and borrows even more money.

The business plan here seems to be to create enough growth to generate a high level of float. Bezos uses the float to get enough financing to keep the company growing.

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Whether or not that is sustainable is anybody’s guess. Bezos has been able to find enough new businesses to keep increasing the level of float. When one business starts making money, he uses it to finance a new venture.

That means Amazon might be a value investment or at least a cash investment if it were reasonably priced. The problem is that it is not; it is ridiculously overpriced, which is one of the factors that props up its value and helps Bezos finance his operations.

Therefore one of the biggest risks at would be a collapse or a significant fall in its stock price. That could hinder Bezos’ ability to get financing. which could force him to cut back on expansion or sell assets to cover all that debt he’s taken out.

Why Jeff Bezos Wants Amazon to Become Walmart

The only way that this situation could be avoided would be if Amazon’s revenue were to grow as large as Walmart’s. The problem with that is that Walmart reported a TTM revenue of $485.62 billion on July 31, 2015, or nearly five times that of Amazon’s, making it the world’s largest retailer by far.

That gives Walmart a vast amount of float. Even though its revenue was growing at a rate of just .09%, its revenue increased by $5.14 billion last year. It also gave Walmart a free cash flow of $2.81 billion and $5.7151 billion in cash and short-term investments.

What’s truly interesting is that Amazon has a lot more cash in the bank than Walmart does. It reported a cash and short-term investments figure of $14 billion, which tells us why Bezos can get so much financing. Like Sergei Brin and Larry Page at Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A), Bezos believes in keeping a lot of cash on hand.

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For the record, Google reported having $69.78 billion in cash and short-term investments on June 30, 2015, and Berkshire had $66.59 billion in the bank on the same day. Obviously, Amazon is not in their leagues, but its bank account is growing.

In June 2014 Amazon had $7.986 billion in the bank, so its cash and short-term investments nearly doubled in a year.  One has to wonder if this growth is sustainable. If it is, Amazon could accumulate tremendous resources in a few years. That cash could give Bezos the resources he needs to build up a retail machine rivaling Walmart in size.

Why Amazon Might Never Become the New Walmart

Although that would take a long, long time, Amazon’s revenue is currently growing at a rate of 19.88%. That means its revenue will increase by around $19 billion a year if it can be sustained. At that rate, it would take 26 years to surpass Walmart by reaching $494 billion—if Walmart’s revenue were to stand still for that length of time.

This means Amazon is still a far more speculative investment than its fans would like to believe. It is capable of generating vast amounts of cash and float, but nobody knows whether that float or cash is sustainable or not. My suggestion would be to stay away from Amazon—far, far away. If you are looking for a high-priced tech stock, buy Google; it at least seems capable of sustaining the cash flow without breakneck growth that could stop at any time.