Amazon: The Enduring Appeal of a World-Class Business

TipsForTraders | April 2, 2024

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While other mega-cap tech titans grab headlines,, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) continues to solidify its position as one of the world’s most impressive business models. Sure, compared to the meteoric rises and dramatic falls of some tech peers, AMZN’s growth and valuation may seem less exciting at first glance. However, astute investors recognize the company’s sustainable growth trajectory and the enduring strength of its competitive moat.

Amazon has consistently demonstrated its ability to prioritize long-term value creation, even when doing so might temporarily limit near-term profit. The company’s strategic investments in infrastructure and innovative technologies, often viewed as detracting from near-term earnings, actually fuel Amazon’s compounding long-term growth prospects. With the recent focus on generative AI technologies, AMZN is well-positioned to maintain a competitive edge. While it may not be a pure-play AI investment, Amazon’s substantial infrastructure and resources could drive significant benefits as AI becomes even more pervasive in online commerce.

Impressive Results and a Focus on Profitability

Amazon’s substantial recent outperformance, with its stock price nearly doubling over the past year, is a testament to its resilience and ability to navigate challenging market conditions. Despite its massive size, the company continues to deliver impressive top-line growth. In its latest quarter, Amazon generated 14% YoY revenue growth, reaching $169.96 billion and exceeding even optimistic forecasts. While revenue growth is a positive sign, what truly turned heads on Wall Street was the dramatic surge in operating income, which soared 383% YoY to $13.2 billion.

One of our analysts highlighted that this impressive profitability is not merely a fluke. Amazon has demonstrated a clear ability to control its operating expenses, particularly within its e-commerce operations. As a result, its North American business has shown consecutive quarters of margin improvement, a remarkable turnaround from the operating losses incurred earlier. International markets, which often include high-growth but less profitable ventures, are also demonstrating reduced operating losses, showcasing AMZN’s commitment to disciplined spending.

As expected, the company’s cloud division, Amazon Web Services (AWS), remains a significant profit engine. AWS boasts impressive operating margins that continue to expand. Historically, some market analysts have argued that AWS profits effectively subsidize the lower-margin e-commerce side of the business. However, narrowing losses in International markets and the impressive North America turnaround suggest that the e-commerce giant is increasingly capable of standing on its own.

Robust Financials and Investments in the Future

Amazon ended its most recent quarter with a commanding $29 billion net cash position, further bolstering its financial stability. While many companies might seek to return cash to shareholders or pursue costly acquisitions, Amazon’s free cash flow generation provides unparalleled flexibility to reinvest in the business. Its substantial investment in Anthropic, a leading AI startup, showcases its forward-thinking mindset and commitment to harnessing emerging technologies for its strategic growth.

Management’s upbeat outlook for the upcoming quarter further reinforces the enduring appeal of AMZN stock. While the company, like many in the tech sector, tends to provide conservative guidance, Amazon has repeatedly surpassed expectations in recent quarters. Consensus estimates seem aligned with this perspective, with anticipated strong revenue performance and even more robust earnings per share.

One of our analysts highlighted a noteworthy statement from Amazon’s recent conference call; management expressed optimism about the potential of generative AI to add “tens of billions of dollars” in revenue over the coming years. This aligns with the success seen by fellow tech giant Meta Platforms, Inc. (META), whose stock has surged in response to its AI focus. Amazon is uniquely positioned to benefit from generative AI across both its AWS and e-commerce sides. Increased demand for cloud infrastructure to power AI applications and the potential to transform its e-commerce platform with AI-driven improvements offer compelling upside potential.

The Power of Infrastructure and Reinvestment

A key takeaway from our extensive analysis is that Amazon’s e-commerce business is a force to be reckoned with. The company’s logistics infrastructure is a testament to its early investments and continued spending in this area. Approximately 60% of Amazon’s recent $48 billion CapEx was invested directly into its infrastructure, further cementing its competitive advantage. It’s a daunting
task for any potential competitor to imagine replicating Amazon’s intricate network, particularly given their head start and aggressive reinvestment strategy.

When asked about the possibility of future share repurchases, management reaffirmed their focus on reinvestment in the business, a position we applaud. While many companies use excess cash flow for buybacks or acquisitions, Amazon has proven its ability to generate impressive returns when it directs its profits back into its core operations. As one of our analysts noted, the most appealing aspect of Amazon’s business model is its ability to reinvest capital at high rates of return, year after year, across its AWS and e-commerce branches. It’s this unparalleled ability that solidifies our team’s confidence in Amazon’s continued dominance.

Should Investors Consider AMZN?

Amazon’s valuation has historically made it a more challenging fit in traditional “value” investing frameworks. However, with the company’s renewed focus on profitability and a stock price that has nearly doubled in the past year, AMZN now presents a more compelling investment proposition. While still not considered “cheap” based on some traditional metrics, the current valuation, trading at around 43x this year’s earnings estimates, offers a reasonable entry point given the company’s impressive growth drivers and strategic positioning at the forefront of technological innovation.