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Amazon's Bezos Enters His Bond Villain Stage

Bezos and CBS interviewer Charlie Rose both emphasized the "gee whiz" aspects, such as Amazon's contract with the CIA and how its video services, and video productions, could make cable television obsolete.

All of this was taking place against the backdrop of a stock that has risen 57% this year, despite the company's negligible profits. Shares are now approaching $400 just three months after hitting $300. That gives Amazon a market cap of $180 billion, almost three times last year's sales, while most retailers sell for half their sales.

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The stock's strength allows Amazon to easily buy companies such as Kiva Systems, a maker of robots for moving items around warehouses, purchased in March 2012 for a reported $775 million in cash. Kiva shareholders who put their cash into Amazon shares have doubled their money.

Bezos plows nearly every dollar of sales back into the operation, and Amazon's $3 billion in long-term debt (as of the end of September) is less than its cash on hand. Amazon carries about $1 in debt for each $10 in total assets.

By contrast, Wal-Mart had long-term debt of nearly $42 billion at the end of its most recent quarter, more than four times its cash hoard of $8.7 billion. And Wal-Mart carries about $1 in debt for each $5 in assets, which is in the ballpark of other large retailers. Target (TGT), for example, has $1 in debt for each $3.70 in assets.

Retailers typically finance inventory, while technology companies are notoriously debt-averse. After trimming its debt relative to its sales, Amazon is a retailer that is now run like a tech company.

All those retailers, it should be noted, have higher annual sales than Amazon, and that should remain true for 2013, although it will be a close race with Target. Wal-Mart, in fact, is still almost six times larger, by sales, than Amazon, yet the two firms are equal in the public imagination.

If you think of Amazon as a tech company, its target this year will be Microsoft, which had 2012 sales of $73 billion last year. Microsoft also has a market cap of $318 billion, much larger than Amazon's $180 billion.

The point is that Amazon, despite its apparent size, has a lot of room to grow. That's what turning yourself into a Bond villain will do for you. Publicity acts as a financial magnifying glass.

At the time of publication the author owned shares of AAPL.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.


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