The shares of Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY) are up almost 250% this year. The company’s management has staged a turnaround, at least partially. But the progress is not great enough for Best Buy to have its current market capitalization of $14 billion. After all, its earnings from continuing operations last quarter were only $44 million. Even if that number soars, it likely will not be enough to justify the $14 billion valuation.
The theory behind the increased value of Best Buy is that its revenue is no longer shrinking, and it may recover this holiday season. In its most recently reported quarter, Best Buy had revenue of $9.4 billion, about flat with last year’s same quarter. Same-store sales for the period rose only 0.3%. The number only looks good because in the year-ago quarter same-store sales were off 5.1%.
Part of the enthusiasm about Best Buy is the strategic plan of new CEO Hubert Joly: drop prices below the competition and offer better in-store services. The problem with the first part of the program is that the move is likely to lower margins. The problem with the second is that consumers are used to shopping for consumer electronics at Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), where there is no service. The lack of service at Amazon is replaced by the convenience of shopping from home and the ability to browse a seemingly infinite number of consumer electronics products across a nearly limitless number of prices. A physical store has no means to match that.
So, the new wisdom about the high valuation of Best Buy is that it has beaten, or at least matched, Amazon in the prices and service aspects of consumer electronic sales. Yet, there is scant evidence of that. It will not be until holiday sales numbers are turned in by the two companies that Best Buy can be considered a winner, even on the most modest level. And “modest” is the problem. Even a small improvement in Best Buy’s revenue says nothing other than Amazon is not trampling it with quite the same force as a year or two ago. That does not mean the beating ever entirely ended.
Best Buy’s turnaround is nothing more than marching in place, which is not enough to cement a better future.