25 July, 2007

Amazon Rewarded for Earnings Beat, but is the Party Over Now?

Amazon (AMZN) has stepped back into the good books of Wall St. with a run of increasing profitability that's making all those short sellers very nervous and is leading the stock to highs it hasn't seen since the Internet boom. Prior to yesterday's post-market-close earnings results, Amazon held an outrageous P/E in the 140s. Now that's paying for growth! But the company is delivering on this growth promise as it reported $0.19/share vs. the estimate of $0.16/share, and handily topping last year earnings of $0.05/share during the same quarter.

Current year-end estimates, which are bound to be raised by analysts soon enough put earnings just north of $1/share, which at current levels has Amazon sporting a P/E in the 80s when it reports for the December quarter. Do growth prospects continue to justify this valuation or is this a classic example of a tightly held company in a sudden short squeeze after a solid quarter. About 15% of outstanding shares were shorted as of mid June and it seems like that has something to do with today's 25% spike northwards. There has been contention over the last couple of years that the company is spending too much on internal technologies and off-shoot ventures like the UnBox movie downloads and the ever-popular music store in development rumors. A deal with TiVo to stream movie downloads to owners of the popular DVR device in tow and consecutive blowout quarters with ever increasing guidance has certainly silenced the critics.

Back in April when the company blew earnings out of the water it upped guidance to $13.40-14 billion in revenue for the year, and with the latest results lifted guidance to yearly revenue of $13.80-14.30 billion. Notice the pattern here? Everything seems rosy here doesn't it, but as any growth company can attest to, playing the ever increasing expectation game can be like walking a tightrope with a safety net made out of razor wire. Not only would the fall hurt, but the landing would as well.

Amazon's Prime service seems to be a big hit, it allows customers to pay a yearly fee for free shipping, and it is ideas like this that will eventually drive margins higher as Amazon cuts prices to sell more goods. The brick and mortar retailers, especially on electronics have been pushing these high-margin extended service/care warranties for years. Best Buy and Apple, through the ProCare program, love the revenue these services bring their respective companies.

All in all, while a compelling story, I for one think the Amazon boat has sailed for now and needs to dock before I would board. There was a great opportunity here for stock and option players and it should be time to profit take as I can surely see a downward spike coming before another one happens that would continue the climb. The market stays irrational for much longer than people usually think and while there might still be something here, I don't like the odds at these levels with a P/E that can seemingly only come down. If Amazon were to double profitability next year to $2/share you're still looking at a company with a forward P/E right now of almost 50. Now with Analyst estimates, likely to rise for 2008 from $1.30 per share the company has a lot of work to do to justify its price tag.

Disclosure: Author holds no position in AMZN

No comments: