For a brief moment yesterday, it looked like Jeff Bezos could finally thumb his nose at those who’ve been doubting him all along. His expand-at-any cost, low-margin frugality and take no prisoners, thrifty-bootstrapping strategy for Amazon had at last paid off. The company announced record quarterly profits of $482 million, more than the cumulative total of the previous 17 quarters. Think about that: more profits in one quarter than the previous 17 quarters combined.
So, after years of doubt and criticism from Wall Street, one would think that yesterday’s earnings announcement would have been the Amazon CEO’s “I told ya so” moment of glory. Instead, as my colleague Harrison Weber wrote, Amazon’s share price tanked 13 percent for missing analysts’ expectations, and it could slide further today. The plummet renews a debate about the costs of delivering goods — so critical to Amazon’s ability to generate profits. But it’s one that feels very old, and reminds me of the scorn heaped upon the company when it was fledgling. Such criticism of the company was wrongheaded then, and it’s wrongheaded now.
In December 1998, Henry Blodget, then an analyst at CIBC Oppenheimer, famously set a $400 share price for Amazon, which was then trading in the $250 range, praising the company’s willingness to invest in distribution capacity. Even amid the euphoria for dot-coms, such a bullish target seemed overly optimistic. Eighteen months later, in June 2000, Ravi Suria, at the time a 29-year-old financial analyst at Lehman Brothers, penned an infamous report that questioned Amazon’s then-deteriorating credit position and ability to generate profits. Suria’s report sent the ecommerce giant’s stock tumbling 19 percent in a single day, and opened the way for it to plunge 90 percent as the dot-com bust set in. Suria even warned that the company might have trouble paying its suppliers.
It sure looked like Blodget was wrong and Suria’s doomsday prediction was right: Amazon’s share price sank to the $5 range in August 2001. But then relatively quickly, the logic behind Bezos’s strategy began to pay off. As James Surowiecki wrote a couple years later, the company began delivering consecutive quarterly profits and even beat earnings expectations.
Since then, the road hasn’t always been smooth, but Amazon has shown real growth. Even as Amazon’s share price fell in after-hours trading, the stock was still up an astounding 38,000 percent from the days of the dot-com bust. The company’s commitment to innovation and expansion is unabated. Its recent initiatives include automated replenishments for everything from laundry detergent to printer ink via the Dash button, food subscriptions via Amazon Pantry, restaurant delivery service in limited areas, and of course, maybe one day, drone delivery. If you take the long view, it’s hard not to conclude that even better quarters for Amazon lie ahead. Bezos and Amazon deserve an “I told ya so” moment.
Additional reporting by Harrison Weber.