Amazon Is Under Attack

Amazon’s strategy of relentless expansion is looking risky as it finds itself fighting fierce battles on all sides.

In the last nine months alone, the company that launched as a book seller has made three forays into hardware, with a TV streaming box, the Fire smartphone, and its Square-killer, Local Register. Amazon also launched a local services marketplace, an unlimited e-book subscription service, Amazon Pantry for grocery delivery (and an accompanying bar-code scanner), its own in-house delivery system for same-day and grocery services, and a music-streaming offering, while also continuing its experimentation with drones and pouring millions into its original video content.

Plus, it owns Zappos, Diapers.com, and IMDB — and that’s just the start.

CEO Jeff Bezos’s strategy has been to forgo profits and endure slim margins while prioritizing expansion and customer experience. Amazon ruthlessly snuffs out competition with low prices and takes a hard line in negotiations with companies that want to be partners. This has led to Amazon taking vastly more ecommerce sales than anyone else — an expected $91 billion in sales this year, more than the next dozen largest e-tailers combined.

But when the company said it expects to lose a whopping $410 million to $810 million in Q3, investors panicked, and the stock tanked more than 10%. Overall this year, it’s down nearly 20%.

Scott Tilghman, from B. Riley & Co., said that although the firm is used to Amazon’s slim profits or even losses, it downgraded its estimates because “we are finding no end to the company’s spending this time around.”

Now, it’s important to note that it’s not like Amazon can’t make money. It’s that it chooses not to make money. As Evans puts it Amazon has someone at the company whose job it is to make sure that net income gets to zero.

Amazon takes nearly every dollar of cash that it generates and pumps it right back into the company, which you can see represented here by the growth in capital expenditures:
Amazon’s willingness to reinvest its money makes it an intimidating company. It’s run like a startup, not a 20 year old mainstream company.

“We won’t invest in a company unless they can tell us why they won’t get steamrolled by Amazon,” Jordan once told Fast Company.

But recently, it feels like something has changed. As Amazon expands into more verticals, its sheer number of competitors has exploded, and they’re attacking Amazon in ways that are both big and small. Amazon remains a strong company, but it suddenly seems at risk of stretching itself too thin, exposing itself to too many competitors.

The startups that could disrupt Amazon

For instance, Andreessen Horowitz just invested $44 million in Instacart, a grocery delivery service. Instacart hires people to drive their own cars to grocery stores to pick up stuff that users order through their smartphone. This is a direct competitor to AmazonFresh, which also delivers groceries, but in fewer markets around the country than Instacart does.

The Instacart example is telling, partly because the company exists almost entirely because of our smartphones and the desire for instant gratification.

Mobile apps are changing shopping (mobile commerce grew three times faster than e-commerce year-over-year overall in Q2). But, until its recent release of the Fire phone, Amazon had done hardly anything to make its mobile experience distinct from its desktop experience. It basically just ported its website into an app. With the Fire phone, Amazon went hard in the opposite direction. Part of the reason why the Fire phone hasn’t done well, is that it feels like the phone exists mainly as a portal to the Amazon ecosystem.

Besides providing a better gateway to instant gratification, many e-commerce apps also offer a more personalized shopping experience. Amazon may be the “everything store,” but it isn’t great at pointing you towards things you weren’t specifically looking for.

As Kevin Roose put it in a recent New York Magazine piece, Amazon has issues with “discovery.” Startups like Spring, Fancy, and One Kings Lane, to name a few, are all beautifying the e-commerce process while giving customers new ways to browse.

 

Lee Hnetinka, founder and CEO of New York City-based startup WunWun thinks his company undercuts Amazon in several different ways. WunWun is a delivery service app that lets customers purchase goods from local stores and then delivers them within an hour for free, and Hnetinka says that operating without warehouses and inventory makes it much more nimble than Amazon.
A WunWun courier on a delivery run.

“We’re also empowering merchants,” Hnetinka told Business Insider “We’re empowering them to compete with Amazon.” Although he says that he doesn’t “wake up everyday thinking about how [WunWun] can kill Amazon,” he’s not afraid of the competition.
The other reason the Instacart story is important is that it only competes with Amazon because Amazon is doing everything now. If Apple is famous for its focus, Amazon should be famous for its lack of focus.

Another thing that makes this this period of competition different than the others is that Amazon itself has trained its newest competitors.

For instance, Flipkart, an India-based e-commerce company built by two Amazon alumni, just raised $1 billion. After they announced their raise, Amazon said it would go spend $2 billion in India.

Then there’s Jet, a soon-to-be-launched e-commerce startup from Marc Lore. Lore knows Amazon’s brutal tactics as well as anyone. Prior to starting Jet, he co-founded Quidsi, which was the parent company of Diapers.com. In 2010, BusinessWeek called Diapers.com “What Amazon Fears Most.”

Diapers.com was shipping hundreds of millions of Diapers annually, making a dent in Amazon’s business. To compete, Amazon went nuclear on Diapers.com, drastically lowering prices forcing Quidsi to sell to Amazon for $540 million.

When he announced his new company, Lore said, “At Jet we will make use of the latest advancements in technology to create a new shopping experience that will empower customers like never before. Jet will bring unprecedented transparency and efficiencies to the overall e-commerce market, and as a result, will transform the customer experience in a way that, until now, has not been possible.”

Lore raised $55 million for his new venture, and although he doesn’t specifically call out Amazon, his ambitions are clearly big.

The giant companies that want to disrupt Amazon
Amazon isn’t under attack from just startups, though. There are big companies with deep pockets ready to challenge Amazon, too.

Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba is about to IPO. It’s hoping to raise $21 billion in the biggest IPO in history, giving Alibaba billions in cash to try to crack into the U.S. market.

Then, there’s Google, which has ramped up its inclusion of paid product listings. These listings show products right in Google searches. Amazon-Google is one of the most underreported, but important, rivalries in tech.

Google makes its money when people do commercial searches for products. As Amazon grows in power and ubiquity, consumers are going straight to Amazon.com to do searches for stuff instead of Google. To fight back, Google has tried to improve its shopping results. As these results improve, Amazon is hurt.

 

Amazon Loss Widens as Bezos Pours Money Into New Services

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) fell more than 11 percent after posting its widest loss since 2012, as its cloud-computing business showed signs of cooling and investments in new distribution warehouses and gadgets hold back profitability.

The world’s largest online retailer had a second-quarter loss of $126 million, wider than analysts’ $66.7 million average estimate and a $7 million loss a year earlier. Sales climbed 23 percent to $19.3 billion, while operating expenses increased 24 percent to $19.4 billion, Amazon said in a statement today.

Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos’s strategy since Amazon’s inception has been to invest heavily to expand and earn customer loyalty. While the approach has disrupted industries from bookstores and electronics outlets to providers of Web-computing software, it’s been expensive. Amazon began posting quarterly losses in 2012 after being consistently profitable for almost a decade.

“As long as there is money to pour into the business, they will be pouring money into the business,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “If you can spend down all your profit and nobody is going to penalize you for it, why show a profit?”
The stock fell as much as 11.5 percent in extended trading. The stock rose less than 1 percent to $358.61 at the close in New York, leaving it down 10 percent this year.

Weighing on results is a price war in the cloud-computing market, where Amazon rents data storage and computing power to other companies. Amazon, whose cloud competitors include Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp., cut prices for its Amazon Web Services unit this year, Chief Financial Officer Tom Szkutak said on a conference call.

Cloud Performance

While Amazon doesn’t disclose specific sales for Web services, it’s a part of the “other” category in financial statements, where revenue in the second quarter declined by 3 percent to $1.17 billion from the prior period.

“We had very substantial price reductions,” Szkutak said.

Shareholders have largely continued to back Bezos’s view that big investments are necessary to gain share because Amazon’s business opportunity is enormous and will pay off in the long run. Amazon is the second-highest valued company in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, trading at 573 times earnings and trailing Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc.

CEO Strategy

Amazon’s lack of profits stands in stark contrast to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., which has better margins and is planning an initial public offering soon. The Chinese Web retailer disclosed in a prospectus in May that its profit totaled $2.8 billion for the nine months ended Dec. 31 on revenue of $6.5 billion. Amazon earned $274 million for all of 2013 on sales of $74.5 billion.

Amazon is in an investment cycle that benefits customers and will eventually end, said Szkutak, without specifying when that will be.

“We have a tremendous amount of opportunity,” he said. While it’s impacting short-term results, he said “we’ll obviously be looking to get great returns on invested capital.”

Looking ahead, Amazon projected sales of $19.7 billion to $21.5 billion for the current quarter. Operating losses are projected to be $810 million to $410 million, Amazon said.

Bezos is spending to take Amazon further away from its roots as an online seller of books. As it makes that shift, the company is increasingly competing with large technology companies such as Apple Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co.

Amazon is shipping this week its Fire smartphone, a $199 handset that lets users take a picture of a product to find and buy it quickly from Amazon. Reviewers have panned the device, citing a weak battery, lack of applications and the gimmicky nature of its 3-D display.

Amazon doesn’t disclose sales figures for devices like its Kindle e-readers and Szkutak declined to provide specific figures about orders for the new smartphone.

Strong sales or not, Bezos has proven with devices such as the Kindle Fire tablet that he’ll stick with a product and continue to invest, even if early models don’t prove popular.

“They keep investing in these incredibly capital-intensive businesses,” Mulpuru said.

Amazon Smartphone – Unveiling Update

Amazon.com (AMZN : NASDAQ : US$325.62), Net Change: -2.00, % Change: -0.61%, Volume: 2,902,830
AT&T (T : NYSE : US$35.02), Net Change: 0.04, % Change: 0.11%, Volume: 17,308,458

As expected, Amazon (AMZN) introduced its smartphone, called the Fire Phone, revealing the device at an event in Seattle.

The phone has a 4.7 inch screen, aluminum buttons, a high-definition LCD display, among other features.

The company’s stock was essentially flat(AMZN) on the announcement.

The Fire will also feature unlimited photo storage, plus access to Amazon’s streaming music service for Prime members, Bezos said.

 

“It could have a significant impact on the iPhone…the Amazon phone could be a red herring. Developers would shift towards Amazon.com’s platform,” said Trip Chowdhry, managing director at Global Equities Research.

 

However, some argue that taking on Samsung (Korea Stock Exchange: 593-KR) and Apple (AAPL) in the smartphone market could turn out to be a big mistake.

“They are entering a very established market and they are trying to be a new player, and even with a name like Amazon, it’s not going to happen,” said Kevin Paul Scott, co-founder of the ADDO Institute, a branding consultancy firm.

“It’s really a branding issue. People do not associate Amazon with phones, so regardless of how good their phone is, it won’t catch on.”

Entering the smartphone jungle. AT&T will be the exclusive carrier for Amazon’s new smartphone, which is expected to be unveiled on today, The Wall Street Journal reported citing people familiar with the plans.

The arrangement extends Amazon’s relationship with AT&T, which also provides wireless service to Kindle tablets and e-readers. Amazon hopes to distinguish its phone in a crowded market with a screen capable of displaying seemingly three-dimensional images without special glasses, according to the sources. The phone would employ retina-tracking technology embedded in four front-facing cameras, or sensors, to make some images appear to be 3-D, similar to a hologram.

. The company aims to begin shipping phones by the end of September, ahead of the holiday shopping season. AT&T had an exclusive arrangement with Apple (AAPL) when the iPhone was launched in 2007

Amazon Planning to Unveil Smartphone to Vie With Apple’s

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is planning to introduce a smartphone later this month, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, plunging the world’s largest online retailer deeper into the competitive mobile-device market.

Amazon tweeted today that it was holding an event in Seattle on June 18 hosted by Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos for a product unveiling. The post included a picture of a black, thin device with Amazon’s name in silver emblazoned on it. Mary Osako, a spokeswoman for Amazon, didn’t return a call for comment.

A smartphone from Amazon would ramp up its rivalry with Apple, which makes the iPhone. The companies are increasingly going head-to-head in devices such as tablets and in Web services including online entertainment, as they strive to be digital gateways to consumers. Mobile is central to that effort as more people carry gadgets and do their computing on the go.

“This is a play by Amazon to get a stake in the most ubiquitous device category there is,” said Jan Dawson, a technology-industry analyst who runs research and advisory firm Jackdaw.

Amazon announced the June 18 event with a note to customers, developers and press to request an invitation to attend. A video accompanying the tweet showed people moving their heads around to view a device that’s just out of sight, shot from different angles, implying the phone may have 3-D viewing capabilities, a feature reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

Diversifying Amazon

Bloomberg News reported in 2012 that Amazon was developing a smartphone that would run on Google Inc.’s Android operating system. Foxconn International Holdings Ltd. was working with Amazon on the device, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

Amazon is entering a smartphone market that grew 21 percent last year to $338.3 billion, according to researcher IDC. The market by shipments in the first quarter was dominated by Samsung Electronics Co., which has 31 percent market share, and Apple, with 15 percent.

A smartphone would give Amazon a wider range of hardware devices to bolster its diversification into digital books, songs and movies. The company’s gadget lineup already includes the Kindle e-reader and Kindle Fire tablets. In April, Amazon introduced a $99 TV box for watching digitally delivered shows and movies, called Fire TV.

Profits Later

The company, with razor-thin profit margins that have raised hackles among investors, has shown that it’s willing to lose money on hardware with the goal of later making money from sales of entertainment content like videos and music, or purchases from Amazon’s store.

“Amazon’s play here isn’t to make a ton of money off smartphone sales; it’s to get people to spend more money with Amazon as a whole,” said Dawson.

Bezos has been pouring cash into new initiatives. Amazon’s first-quarter expenses rose 23 percent, the same rate as revenue growth. With investments anticipated to continue for the foreseeable future, the company forecast an operating loss for the current quarter of $55 million to $455 million. A smartphone would illustrate how far Amazon has moved from its roots as an online book seller.

As it preps the new device, the company is entangled in a public spat with one of the world’s biggest book publishers, Hachette Book Group. Amazon has blocked the sale of some titles as part of the dispute during negotiations between the two companies.

Amazon shares fell less than 1 percent today to close at $306.78. The stock is down 23 percent this year, compared with a 4.3 percent rise in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Amazon Update

AMZN : NASDAQ : US$337.15

HOLD 
Target: US$365.00

 

Technology — Internet
STEADY Q1; INT’L MEDIA GROWTH
AND INT’L MARGINS REMAIN LOW
Summary
Amazon reported solid Q1 results marked by strong North American
growth and margins, while International Media sales growth decelerated
to 4% and International margins dipped back below zero. We still see no
International margin expansion in sight, due to a long list of investment
priorities including fulfillment in places like Spain and China, and “early
market” inefficiencies in everything from product sourcing to warehouse
operations. Based on this view, and with consensus estimates implying
margin expansion, we believe we will be in “EPS push-out” mode for at
least another year.
Key points
 Bullish: 33% gross profit growth was much faster than 23% unit and
revenue growth, largely driven by 3P (margin expansion) and AWS
(not included in units). N. American margin stayed high at 4.7%.
 Bearish: International media revenue grew by only 4% y/y,
impacted by the continued shift to digital; guidance implies
continued low margins internationally
 Estimate changes: Our revenue estimates bump up slightly while
EPS heads lower on International margin pressure. Our new 2014,
2015, 2016 non-GAAP EPS estimates go to $5.13, $10.44, and
$14.55 from $5.76, $10.58, and $14.67.
Valuation
Our price target remains unchanged at $365, and is based on a 25x
multiple to our revised 2016 non-GAAP EPS estimate of $14.55

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” Only Gold Is Real Money “

Here’s the shirt:

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 The Gold Investor’s Handbook “ by Jack A. Bass, B.A. LL.B.

( available from Amazon)

1oz 1984 Krugerrand Transferred from en.wikipedia

1oz 1984 Krugerrand Transferred from en.wikipedia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1oz 1984 Krugerrand Transferred from en.wikipedia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1oz 1984 Krugerrand Transferred from en.wikipedia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why Invest in Gold and Gold Stocks – and Why Now ?

Historically, gold has been a proven method of preserving value when a national currency was losing value. If your investments are valued in a depreciating currency, allocating a portion to gold assets is similar to a financial insurance policy. In the past year, the climb in the price of gold above $1600 per ounce is due to many factors, one being that the dollar is steadily losing value.

  • The dollar is weak and getting weaker due to national economic policies  like quantitative easing , which don’t appear to have an end.
  • Gold price appreciation makes up for lost interest, especially in a bull market.
  • The last ten years are a major bull move similar to the 70′s when gold moved from $38 to over $800.
  • Central banks in several countries have been increasing their gold holdings as part of their foreign reserves, instead of selling.
  • All gold funds are in a long term uptrend with bullion get  ready for an new gold bull market surge in 2013.
  • The trend of commodity prices  ( such as food stuffs ) to increase is relative to gold price increases.
  • Worldwide gold production is not matching consumption. The price will go up further with demand.
  • Most gold consumption is done in India and China and their demand is increasing with their increase in national wealth.
  • U.S. government economic policies over the past decade have systematically projected the U.S. economy down a road with uncontrollable federal spending and an uncontrollably increasing trade deficits. Both will cause the dollar to lose in international value and will increase the price of alternative investments, such as gold.

Amazon Gains $3 billion – in nearly free money

The tech giant has quietly raised capital — at almost no cost- Praise The Fed

FORTUNE — While online shoppers were gobbling up e-deals on Cyber Monday, Amazon once again demonstrated its appetite for capital. It raised $3 billion in debt at ultra-low interest rates. Spread across three tranches of bonds that mature over 6 ½ years, Amazon will pay an average of 1.6%, which makes the loan nearly cost-free to Amazon, factoring in inflation. The unexpected debt-capital raise, Amazon’s first in 15 years, double’s Amazon’s cash stockpile. (The Wall Street Journal has a lot of the facts here.)

The swift move got me wondering what Amazon (AMZN) will do with the money. There are obvious starting points. Amazon recently cut a deal to buy its currently leased Seattle headquarters buildings for a bit more than $1 billion. It’s an odd decision, but Amazon is an odd company. It is investing heavily in new warehouses, the better to offer speedier delivery to customers, particularly in locations where Amazon recently has begun collecting state sales taxes—something it probably should have been doing all along. In my recent interview with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos he deflected the question of whether Amazon wants to offer same-day delivery, saying the company hasn’t figured out how to make such a service economical. He said it’s hard enough investing simply to push back in the day when Amazon cuts off taking new orders.

MORE: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: The ultimate disrupter

Given its size and growth, it’s also astounding that Amazon sells in just nine countries: the U.S., Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Counterintuitively, Bezos notes that Amazon is investing particularly aggressively at the moment in Spain and Italy. New regions are a natural place for Amazon to invest its cash.

Amazon obviously continues to invest heavily in its Kindle line, which is showing itself to be a worthy competitor to Apple (AAPL) and tablets that use Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system. (The Kindle Fire uses a version of Android too.) Amazon’s Lab126—it’s Kindle design center in Cupertino, Calif.—recently listed more than 200 open job positions.

Then there are Amazon’s many business lines, many of which compete against each other. To get a sense of the breadth of Amazon’s disparate businesses. I made a list of the 25 brands Amazon links to at the bottom of its U.S. home page, including, with one exception, the way Amazon describes them:

AbeBooks. Rare books and textbooks.

Amazon Local. Great local deals in your city.

Amazon Supply. Business, industrial and scientific supplies. (beta)

Amazon Web Services. Scalable cloud services.

Amazon Wireless. Cellphones & wireless plans.

Askville. Community answers.

Audible. Download audio books.

BeautyBar.com. Prestige beauty delivered.

Book Depository. Books with free delivery worldwide.

CreateSpace. Indie publishing made easy.

Diapers.com. Everything but the baby.

DPReview. Digital photography.

Fabric. Sewing, quilting and knitting.

IMDb. Movies, TV & celebrities.

Junglee.com. Shop online in India.

Myhabit. Private fashion designer sales.

Shopbop. Designer fashion brands.

Soap.com. Health, beauty and home essentials.

Wag.com. Everything for your pet.

Warehouse Deals. Open-box discounts.

Woot. Beta deal site. [My description. Amazon's is so confusing it defies description.]

Yoyo.com. A happy place to shop for toys.

Zappos. Shoes & Clothing.

Vine.com. Everything to live life green.

Casa.com. Kitchen, storage & everything home.

Amazon acquired many of these brands, like Audible, Zappos and IMDb. Some of the sites are clear copycats of more successful startup companies that Amazon hasn’t yet bought. Amazon includes a link at the bottom of its home page to its “Internet-based ads” business, a very real attack on the online advertising industry. It makes no mention of the robotics company it acquired this year, Kiva Systems, which continues to maintain its own web site and gives the appearance of serving non-Amazon customers.

So, how can Amazon spend $3 billion? Let us count the ways.

Available Now at AMAZON.COM ( go to books )

The Gold Investor’s Handbook – click here for   more detail on the in’s and outs of investing in gold

Microsoft Battles Apple With Surface Tablet at $ 499

Image representing Bill Gates as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Microsoft (MSFT : NASDAQ : US$29.49)

October 17

Bill Gates lives in constant fear that Chuck Norris‘ PC will crash.

 

Microsoft announced it will sell its first computer, a device called Surface RT, for as little as $499 as the software maker pushes into the tablet market dominated by Apple’s (AAPLiPad.

The first iteration of the device, powered by a chip with technology from  ARM Holdings (ARMH) , will be available as a 32GB model for $499. With a black cover, it will cost $599, and a 64GB version will be $699.

Analysts say the world’s largest  software maker  needed a device priced under $500 to lure customers away from the iPad and to compete with Amazon.com (AMZN) and Google (GOOG) , which are pushing prices lower in the tablet category. The snap-on cover, which includes a full keyboard, is one of the key features that make the Surface different from other tablets. Customers can buy the cover for $119.99 in black, white, magenta, cyan and red. The tablet has a 10.6-inch display and will run the new version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Both go on sale October 26.

 
 

Amazon Signals It Is Moving Into Smartphones

Image representing Amazon as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

October 16

Texas Instruments (TXN : NASDAQ : US$28.22)

Amazon.com (AMZN : NASDAQ : US$244.18)

 

Amazon.com, the world’s largest Internet retailer, is in advanced talks to buy the mobile chip business of Texas Instruments, Israeli financial newspaper Calcalist reported on Monday.

If negotiations lead to an agreement, Amazon, which makes tablets and is expected to enter the smartphone industry, would become a direct rival to Apple (AAPLand Samsung Electronics, which also designs their own chips. The value of any deal will probably be billions of dollars, Calcalist said.

Note that T.I. said last month it will shift its wireless investment focus from products like smartphones to a broader market, including industrial clients such as carmakers, where it is hoping for a more profitable and stable business. T.I., which chips are used in Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet, told investors it would continue to support its customers but its mobile application chip business, which supports features like video, will not invest in supporting its customers future roadmap for tablets and smartphones to the same degree as before.

 

 

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