has lit up the newswires this week with a series of sunny but mostly meaningless announcements that have lifted its shares nearly 50%.
Quite a Week
The latest in the onslaught came Wednesday morning when CEO Jeff Bezos announced a partnership with the bookstore chain
. Earlier in the week, the company issued a rosy first-quarter financial forecast and set a deal with
to sell electronic books. Shares recently traded at $12.70, up 69 cents, or 5.75% on the day, and up about 47% on Friday's close.
But wade through the fog and what is left? The company's fundamentals, which have divided Wall Street in recent months between those awaiting bankruptcy and those awaiting profitability, haven't changed a bit. The earnings news came in an obfuscating press release that ignited Amazon shares but left most analysts
salivating for more information. The Adobe deal failed to make much of an impression, and the Borders alliance is a decent public relations maneuver, say analysts, but insignificant for the company's finances.
While Amazon is one of the most controversial companies on Wall Street -- analyst ratings run the gamut from buy to sell -- much of the comments this week from analysts were similar, in a rare meeting of the minds between the bear and bull camps. The message: These deals don't change things right away, though they may be helpful down the road. If you're of the mind that Amazon is going to have trouble getting to next year, as many investors are, deals like that aren't going to help.
Under Wednesday's arrangement, Amazon will operate Borders' Web site, which generated a tiny $27 million in revenue in the last year. (Amazon's 2000 revenue in its core books, music and video business was $1.7 billion.) Amazon will get commissions for operating Borders.com and the Amazon brand name will be promoted in Borders shops.
"Financially, it is not a big driver," Shawne Milne, an analyst at
who is solidly in the Amazon bull camp, says of the Borders deal. Of the Adobe deal, he says it is "not material." (Milne has a buy on Amazon, and his firm does not have a banking relationship with the company.)
Mark Rowen, an analyst at
who has been one of the most bearish toward Amazon in recent months, wrote in a report Wednesday, "Although the deal is a psychological boost for Amazon, it does nothing to address the key strategic issues the company faces: namely, a lack of growth in its profitable books, music and video segment, and a lack of profitability in its fast growing consumer electronics business." (Rowen has a sell rating on Amazon, and his firm has had a banking relationship with the company.)
Perhaps the most important takeaway for investors from the Borders deal is the signal that Amazon is serious about partnering with bricks-and-mortar retailers. Amazon already operates a co-branded site with
Toys R Us
, an arrangement that most analysts like even if they wish they had more financial details, and it is widely anticipated the company will eventually hook up with a consumer electronics retailer. (Amazon has been in talks with
reported in an
earlier story. )
"This will allow them to do bigger deals," Milne says.
Paying the Bills
That said, the crucial issue for Amazon investors remains whether the company will be able to pay its bills without seeking additional financing as its strives for profitability. The company has said it will be profitable on a limited basis -- excluding noncash charges such as amortization of goodwill and investment gains and losses -- by the fourth quarter of 2001.
In the meantime, some analysts, most vocally former
debt analyst Ravi Suria, predict the company will have trouble paying its bills in the coming months and could face a creditor squeeze. Others, such as
analyst Henry Blodget, back the company's view that it will have plenty of cash.
Gary Lutin, an New York investment banker who has organized a series of meetings on Amazon's finances hosted by the
New York Society of Securities Analysts
, will hold two more open forums, on April 26 and May 10, prior to the company's annual meeting. (Amazon is to release first-quarter earnings April 24.) The aim is to prompt shareholders to demand that Amazon board members answer certain questions about the company's financial guidance before seeking re-election.
It is a cause investors would be wise to support.