A renewed round of selling pushed shares in
down more than 11% Monday, amid continuing concerns about the company's financial visibility and a controversial comment by CEO Jeff Bezos, who said individual investors should shy away from Internet stocks.
A letter sent March 8 by the
New York Society of Security Analysts
to Amazon.com, and made public in the March 11 editions of
The New York Times
, raised a series of questions over how the company reports its finances and communicates with investors. The group has held a series of
public forums on Amazon, the latest being Feb. 28.
The letter asks that Amazon management provide evidence for its public assertions that it will receive favorable trade credit from its vendors, a top concern among analysts and investors. The letter also takes Amazon management to task for trying to scuttle a recent
report that predicted the company could face a vendor squeeze by the second half of 2001.
As of early Monday afternoon, Amazon hadn't responded to the letter, according to Gary Lutin, head of an investment bank bearing his name and chair of the Amazon forum. The company didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.
Compounding Amazon's woes Monday was an interview given by Bezos to the
, in which he reportedly said, "For a short-term investor or for a small investor, I wouldn't invest in Internet stocks," citing the sector's volatility.
The selloff Monday follows a week in which Amazon shares rose more than 22% on a rumor -- later debunked by published reports -- that the beleaguered online retailer was close to an alliance with
, the world's largest retailer.
The latest Amazon news amplifies the controversy that has long surrounded the company. In addition to worries about the company's balance sheet, analysts still grapple with the valuation question. In late January, Amazon said it would be profitable on a limited basis -- meaning excluding items such as amortization of goodwill and investment gains and losses -- in the fourth quarter of 2001. This did little to
clear the valuation picture because the company will still report losses for 2001 and 2002, so analysts still cannot put together earnings forecasts with any degree of confidence.
Further clouding the valuation picture at Amazon is a lack of specific financial information, analysts claim. For example, the company breaks out sales for its media businesses, but lumps all other areas -- including electronics, toys, hardware and kitchenware -- under the rubric of emerging businesses.
This means analysts and investors have a tough time valuing the company's so-called e-tail infrastructure, which can be leveraged in joint ventures, such as its co-branded store with
Toys R Us
. For example, if analysts knew more about how the venture with Toys R Us was performing, they could better gauge a
potential alliance with Wal-Mart, should such a link-up ever occur.