Amazon Prime Plus at the same price point, with shipping at another price point, is a huge win, and many customers will pay it gladly. Plus there's that offline rental income, and direct sales of media files, which competitors don't offer.
The point is that Amazon has an enormous base of customers and enormous pricing flexibility. It can add more products to a bundled streaming service, create different types of bundles and use the same feedback loop Netflix has to respond to changing customer tastes.
Another important point are capital expenses. Amazon increased its invested capital by 41% during the year, adding $4.5 billion to its total. That is less than the $5.48 billion in operating cash flow it reported for the period. Amazon is still a capital juggernaut with no need to borrow -- total long-term debt rose just $100 million during the year to $3.2 billion.
Left unremarked in the sales numbers was Amazon's first $1 billion quarter for its Amazon Web Services, the cloud rental operation listed under "other" in the income statement. For the full year, there was "other" income of $3.72 billion, up 58% from the year before.Even if you take a conservative valuation, that's $18 billion in equity you can attribute directly to cloud, and with a growth rate almost double the rest of the company's. The other $71 billion in sales is thus worth about $150 billion to investors, which is high but increasingly higher-profit digital rather than lower-profit merchandise. Amazon remains the dominant rented cloud platform, and it continually cuts its prices to maintain that advantage. It is killing older technology companies such as IBM (IBM) and Microsoft (MSFT) with this strategy. I didn't buy Amazon's stock as a speculation this time. Momentum investors are notoriously fickle. Their quick trigger could cause the stock to go lower, and over time the stock will be evaluated more conventionally, based on metrics such as price-to-earnings ratios. It could fall from here, and I could get more stock at a lower price. But I think it will justify an investment at its current price. Before the latest quarter, you really couldn't calculate such a thing as a P/E for Amazon. It never made enough to make the calculation relevant. Everything was based on growth. But now we do see a profit, and I have confidence the company can turn on the profit spigot practically at will. (TGT), Costco (COST) and Kroger (KR), and still less than one-sixth those of Wal-Mart (WMT). Amazon is becoming an investment. At the time of publication the author owned shares of Amazon and Costco. Follow @DanaBlankenhorn This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.
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