This is the first of a three-part series examining Amazon’s business model. On Thursday, we will probe the company’s labor practices, and on Friday we will explore the company's impact on small retailers.
So what's with Wall Street’s love affair with Amazon.com?
The company barely ekes out a profit, spends a fortune on expansion and free shipping and is famously opaque about its business operations.
Yet, investors continue to pour into the stock, pushing up the company’s share price to $388, a nearly 400 percent rise since the end of the company’s third quarter in September 2008.
At that time, Amazon’s net profit margin was 2.8 percent. By September 2011, that number fell to 0.6 percent. A year later, it was losing $274 million on net sales of $13.8 billion. And in the latest quarter, ended Sept. 30, the massive e-tailer reported a $41 million loss on $17 billion in sales.
Amazon.com spends a lot of money to generate its revenue growth. The company's net profit margin has broken one billion dollars only once in the past nine years, in 2009. After reporting a loss last year, the world's largest online store is expected to end this year with $349 million in net profit on nearly $75 billion in revenue. That's close to the profit it made in 2005 ($359 million) on just a fraction of the revenue ($8.5 billion). Photo: IBTimes from company filings
The net result of nearly two decades in business is that Amazon’s trailing 12-month price-to-earnings ratio stands at an alarmingly high 550. Compare that to consistent profit earners with significant online retail operations such as Google (p/e 29), Wal-Mart Stores (2) or eBay (25), and it’s easy to be confused by investors’ hunger for Amazon.
Even Amazon’s strongest supporters can’t explain it.
“People have been buying ‘AMZN potential’ for a decade,” noted James Walker, a lecturer of business statistics at The King’s College in New York, in an email...