Amazon's Reinvestment Strategy: A Double-Edged Sword for Investors?

With a market capitalization of $2.08 trillion, Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) is one of the most valuable companies on the Nasdaq. The e-commerce giant commands a premium valuation due to its consistent sales growth. However, it often appears significantly overvalued when analyzed through traditionally earnings-based valuation methods.

AMZN’s strategy has long been characterized by its aggressive reinvestment of the majority of its profits back into the business. This approach has played a pivotal role in Amazon’s rapid expansion while minimizing its tax burden. Yet, it also poses unique challenges when evaluating the company’s true worth.

Thus, it’s essential to consider several alternative valuation metrics to gauge the difference between market valuation and AMZN’s business fundamentals accurately.

Traditional Valuation Metrics: Beyond the P/E Ratio

Conventional valuation metrics like the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio often fall short when evaluating AMZN due to its reinvestment strategy. As of July 5, the company’s forward non-GAAP P/E multiple is 44.01. Net income-based metrics such as P/E can be misleading as they don’t fully capture the company’s growth potential or the value created by its reinvested profits.

So, investors have turned to the price-to-sales (P/S) ratio, which is a company’s market value compared to its revenue, as a more reliable indicator.

Operating Income and Margin: A Clearer Picture

A more effective way to value Amazon is by looking at its P/S ratio within the context of its operating income and operating margin. These metrics provide a clearer view of the company’s profitability. AMZN’s trailing-12-month (TTM) operating income is approximately $100 billion, with its operating margin at a 10-year high. This improvement is primarily attributed to AWS’ growth and a rebound in its North America and International segments.

One scenario is paying a 3.26 P/S ratio for a business with high revenue growth but low-profit margins. However, paying the same ratio for a company that is not only increasing its revenue but also improving its profit margins is entirely different, making AMZN an attractive investment opportunity.

The Bull Case for Amazon

Undoubtedly, AMZN’s reinvestment strategy presents a double-edged sword for investors. On one hand, it has fueled tremendous growth and innovation, positioning the company at the forefront of several high-growth industries. On the other hand, it complicates traditional valuation methods, potentially leading to misinterpretations of the company’s financial health.

Despite these challenges, the bull case for Amazon remains strong. The company’s P/S ratio is close to its five-year average of 3.02, but the quality of its business is considerably improving. Amazon is growing its top line and expanding its margins, suggesting a path toward consistent profitability.

For the first quarter that ended March 31, 2024, Amazon’s net sales increased 13% year-over-year to $143.30 billion. Notably, the company’s Amazon Web Services (AWS), a leader in cloud infrastructure, segment sales rose 17% year-over-year to $25 billion. AWS contributed over 61% of AMZN’s operating income in the quarter. AWS’ operating income grew faster than AWS’ sales, indicating that margins are improving.

According to HG Insights, AWS captured around 50.1% of the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) market share among the ten leading providers.

Amazon’s International segment sales grew 10% from the prior year’s quarter, and the North America segment increased 12%. The company’s operating income was $15.30 billion, up 218.8% year-over-year. Its net income came in at $10.40 billion for the first quarter, or $0.98 per share, compared to $3.20 billion, or $0.31 per share, in the same quarter of 2023.

Furthermore, AMZN’s operating cash flow was $99.10 billion for the trailing twelve months versus $54.30 billion for the trailing twelve months ended March 31, 2023. Its free cash flow increased to an inflow of $50.10 billion for the trailing twelve months, compared with an outflow of $3.30 billion ended March 31, 2023.

“It was a good start to the year across the business, and you can see that in both our customer experience improvements and financial results,” said Andy Jassy, Amazon President and CEO.

“The combination of companies renewing their infrastructure modernization efforts and the appeal of AWS’s AI capabilities is reaccelerating AWS’s growth rate (now at a $100 billion annual revenue run rate); our Stores business continues to expand selection, provide everyday low prices, and accelerate delivery speed (setting another record on speed for Prime customers in Q1) while lowering our cost to serve; and, our Advertising efforts continue to benefit from the growth of our Stores and Prime Video businesses,” Jassy added.

Looking forward, analysts expect Amazon’s revenue and EPS for the fiscal year (ending December 2024) to increase 11.1% and 56.7% year-over-year to $638.80 billion and $4.54, respectively. The company’s revenue and EPS for the fiscal year 2025 are expected to grow 11.2% and 26% from the prior year to $710.20 billion and $5.73, respectively.

Bottom Line

AMZN’s stock has had a record-breaking year, joining the $2 trillion club in June. The stock has surged nearly 37% over the past six months and more than 53% over the past year. While Amazon’s valuation may seem high at first glance, its improved business fundamentals and growth prospects justify the current stock price.

By continuously reinvesting profits back into its business, Amazon has managed to stay at the forefront of e-commerce and cloud computing, driving rapid expansion and innovation. While the company’s reinvestment strategy has undeniably been a catalyst for its success, it requires investors to adopt a more sophisticated approach to valuation, considering metrics beyond traditional net income-based ones.

By focusing on the P/S ratio within the context of operating income and margin, investors can gain a better understanding of the company’s financial trajectory and growth potential. Thus, while complicating traditional valuation methods, Amazon’s reinvestment strategy has laid the foundation for continued success and makes the company an attractive investment opportunity in the long term.

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