Would It Make Sense for Amazon to Acquire Shopify?

Shopify Inc. (NYSE: SHOP) has defied the direction of the major markets in the past week, with its shares having gained about 8%. Its stock also has surged almost 70% since the end of 2016. On top of stellar revenue growth, perhaps the current driver for Shopify shares is a market rumor that Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) is interested in acquiring the company.

When investors hear the term “buyout rumors” it can lead to many things. Please understand one key issue when it comes to market rumors: Unfortunately, most market rumors tend to end up not coming to fruition. Investors ought to keep in mind each time they hear rumors that only a handful of them actually come true.

Without trying to determine if these rumors are real or even make any sense, the question to ask is what exactly Jeff Bezos would be adding to Amazon by acquiring Shopify. Note that Shopify rumors have circulated before this latest gain. Zacks pointed to an Amazon partnership rumor back on January 6, 2017, and StreetInsider noted a rumored takeover interest from Google back on March 18 of 2016.

Shopify offers an easy-to-use multi-channel commerce platform that targets small and medium-sized businesses. Its 2016 revenue was $389 million, and it generated $37 million in operating losses and a loss of $35 million in net income.

A market value of $6.5 billion may seem high for a company losing money and with an expectation of $600 million in revenue in 2017, the reality is that “value” might not matter to a company like Amazon. After all, when has anyone ever been right calling Amazon a bad company just because its astronomical valuations are almost impossible to justify if you only used historical norms like P/E ratios or analyzing gross margins?

The real question here is whether Amazon could more easily compete rather than spend a premium up to $6.5 billion. This would be a bolt-on acquisition for the Amazon Web Services (AWS) business if the rumors were true.

As far as what Amazon or another buyer might get for their $6.5 billion or so, the Shopify website showed that more than 377,500 people have sold over $29 billion using Shopify. The service allows small and midsized businesses to fully customize their online stores and to add new sales channels, while managing unlimited products and inventory and tracking sales. The site also states:

Shopify handles everything from marketing and payments, to secure checkout and shipping. Now you can focus on the things you love. … Businesses both small and large choose Shopify to sell because of its ease of setup, remarkable features, and industry-leading ability to grow your business.

One issue that could potentially complicate an acquisition for Amazon or anyone else is that Shopify is actually based in Ottawa, Canada. Amazon is large enough that it can overcome many things, but Bezos has been called out by Donald Trump during the election, and there is a current view that companies are being rewarded more in public for adding U.S. jobs and doing more things in America rather than across borders.

Options trading has been elevated in Shopify around the rumor, but the reality is that this options trading has been rather tame versus other rumor stocks, when the rumors were more concrete.

Analysts have only been mediocre on upside from here. The consensus target price from Thomson Reuters is $72.55, and the highest analyst price target of $80.00 only implies another 10% upside from the most bullish analyst on Wall Street. While Barclays only started Shopify as Equal Weight, BTIG recently reiterated its Buy rating and raised its target to $75 from $65, noting:

Despite stellar performance since going public in May 2015, we still think Shopify is in the early stages of its growth cycle; a perfect product/market fit (along with a benign competitive environment) should sustain its strong trajectory. Expectations are rising as investors start to appreciate the company’s true potential, and a valuation of 7x EV/FY18 Revenues may look lofty to some; however, we believe that the incredible product/market fit justifies the premium. Moreover, it should also serve as the foundation for continued financial outperformance.

RBC Capital Markets recently noted that Shopify continues to be viewed as the runaway leader in the space. The firm said:

Competitors make a lot of commentary around the pricing model (generally viewed as aggressive, especially for higher tier, i.e. Shopify Plus merchants) and how Shopify has been successful by offering Payments and other merchant services that have been difficult for others to replicate. Speaking to some Shopify Plus partners, our sense is that the recent changes to pricing plans met with a lot of questions from existing merchants, but that the process has been well managed and will not impact demand (primarily because it remains very good value relative to alternatives).

Again, rumors are rumors and most end up being fiction rather than fact. The caveat of course is that anything can happen these days, and $6.5 billion just isn’t as large a deal as it used to be.

Shopify shares were last seen trading up about 0.2% at $72.50 on Wednesday, in a 52-week range of $24.96 to $73.00. Keep in mind that Shopify closed out 2016 at $42.87 a share.

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