Amazon's moves beyond retail get Wall Street thumbs up, for now

Fri Apr 28, 2017 10:22pm EDT
 
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By Jeffrey Dastin

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc's ventures far beyond online retail, from cloud computing to movie making, are raising questions among corporate strategy experts about its focus.

The Seattle-based company wowed Wall Street again this week with a 23 percent jump in sales, pushing its shares to an all-time high. But there are concerns that if blockbuster growth stops, investors may come to regard the company more like a conglomerate stock - worth less than the sum of its pieces.

"High growth covers a lot of sins," said Harry Kraemer, a partner at private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners and a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

"Picture yourself running the company where one minute we're talking about how we're going to operate air cargo, and the next minute we're going to talk about artificial intelligence," he said. "I don’t think it's sustainable."

So far, analysts have balked at the idea of calling Amazon a conglomerate because its businesses, although varied, all relate in some way to retail. Warehouses, trucks and planes bring packages to shoppers' doorsteps. Amazon Web Services sells the very cloud-computing services to enterprises that were built to meet the technology needs of Amazon.com.

"It's not like General Electric Co having financial services and making aircraft engines," Baird Equity Research analyst Colin Sebastian said.

Some initiatives, though, such as a television studio in Hollywood, seem further afield. Amazon says the video foray has allowed it to stream unique programming to members of its Prime shopping club, thereby increasing sign-ups for a program that encourages people to buy more goods, more often.

The financial success of the investment is difficult to assess. Revenue from Prime membership fees and other media subscriptions rose 49 percent in the first quarter to $1.9 billion, the company reported on Thursday. It does not disclose the costs of content for its Prime Video service, but they were estimated by an analyst to be more than $3 billion in 2016.   Continued...

 
FILE PHOTO: An Amazon.com Inc driver stands next to an Amazon delivery truck in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 21, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo