Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) posted poor earnings and then lost out on a major cloud deal with the U.S. Department of Defense. In the meantime, Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) has slowly but surely hoisted its way into a major position in retail e-commerce. Wall Street’s perception of the different paths has shown up in the share prices of the companies so far this year.
Amazon’s shares have actually underperformed the Nasdaq this year. The index is higher by 13.5%. Amazon’s shares are higher by 8.3%. In the meantime, Walmart’s stock has risen by 25.8%.
Amazon’s shareholders have become impatient because the company has returned to an old strategy. It will spend its way to more rapid growth and better market share then its competition. Its aggressive move into one-day delivery may give it an e-commerce advantage, but at what cost? While revenue grew from $56.6 billion in the third quarter of 2018 to $70.0 billion, per-share earnings dropped from $5.81 to $4.31. Investors also were concerned that its cloud business, Amazon Web Services, has slower growth than in past quarters, even though revenue rose from $6.8 billion to $9.0 billion. The Microsoft win with the Pentagon showed that, despite its leadership in the market, Amazon is hardly invulnerable.
Walmart’s growth is snail-like compared to Amazon’s. Its revenue in the most recent quarter rose 2.9% to $131.7 billion. This may be modest, but it once again cements its position as the world’s largest retailer, and one that can grow despite its size. In its home market, it has done particularly well. When management announced numbers, it said: “Walmart U.S. comp sales increased on a two-year stacked basis by 7.3%, which is the strongest growth in more than 10 years.”
Walmart also has started to flank Amazon in some of its most important businesses. Amazon’s move into groceries via its purchase of Whole Foods was meant to challenge Walmart. However, Walmart has grown its grocery pick-up business to 2,700 locations. Its in-home grocery business delivers fresh food to people’s homes. It has a next-day delivery operation to challenge Amazon’s.
Amazon may well still make a comeback. It has over 100 million Prime subscribers who pay $12.99 for services that include free shipping and its streaming media service. Its portable in-home assistance devices likely lead the market in share, which puts it into millions of homes. This presence has been leveraged to improve people’s ties to Amazon’s e-commerce business. Amazon Web Services has more competition than it did five years ago, but it is still the industry leader.
For years, Amazon was the hot company and Walmart the boring one. That has changed.