Why Amazon Is Down 20% This Year

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If you bought shares in Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) a year ago, you would have made a gain of 18.5% through Friday’s trading. If you waited until the first of January, you would have a loss of 18%. The stock hit an all-time high in January of around $408 and has lost about $60 a share since then.

We have noted some of the issues before: paper-thin margins, high and rising costs for its original video productions, and spending on delivery services and very possibly a 3D-enabled smartphone. All these contribute to thin profits and, in the current quarter, a loss of between $55 million and $455 million.

Investors have given the company a lot of rope, treating it at as a growth company with nosebleed levels for forward multiples (100.18) and even bigger trailing 12-month price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios (509.30). Will Amazon ever pay off for these true believers? Does it matter?

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The company has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday, when most observers expect Amazon to announce at least one smartphone. The company has already said it is building a set-top box, and just this past week it launched a new streaming music service as part of its $99 Amazon Prime subscription package, which also includes Amazon streaming video and free two-day shipping, which itself may be a big problem given looming price hikes at FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) that could easily get matched by United Parcel Service Inc. (NYSE: UPS).

Amazon has been forced to begin collecting sales tax in many states and more states are almost certain to follow. There is evidence that once Amazon begins collecting sales tax, the company’s advantage over local brick-and-mortar stores and other online sellers quickly evaporates.

Amazon’s single-minded pursuit of growth has been a long-term success, with three stock splits and a nominal share price increase of around 350% since coming public in 1997. But it is a high-wire act that forgives a few bobbles and wobbles, and that’s what Amazon thrives on. It banks on being too big to fall or fail.

Shares closed at $326.27 on Friday, up 0.11% in a 52-week range of $265.00 to $408.06.

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