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The Secret About Amazon's Success

Companies / Internet Oct 03, 2015 - 08:57 PM GMT

By: Steve_H_Hanke

Companies

Which company is a better investment, Google or Amazon.com? Conventional wisdom suggests Google, which turns huge profits, enjoys better gross margins, and has a far lower price-to-earnings ratio. Yet Amazon’s stock has returned 62.6 percent in the past year, compared with 9.6 percent for Google.


That’s a phenomenon Steve Hanke, an economics professor at Johns Hopkins University, and Ryan Guttridge, a fellow there, have named the “Amazon Puzzle,” and one they say they’ve figured out. The key is hidden in asset turns, or how effective companies are at getting revenue out of their investments. Asset turnover is defined as sales divided by total assets; the higher the number, the better. “Google is just abysmal, and Amazon is really good,” says Guttridge, who once worked for legendary stock picker Bill Miller at Legg Mason in Baltimore.

How abysmal? Try 0.54 in 2013, 0.55 in 2014, and 0.53 so far this year, versus 2.05, 1.88, and 2.12 for Amazon, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Guttridge and Hanke credit Amazon’s cash flow–focused CEO, Jeff Bezos. Bezos has a salary of just $81,840 a year, though he gets a further $1.6 million to cover his personal security. Beyond that, he receives nothing atop the return on the 18 percent of Amazon that he owns. It’s the same stock shareholders own. He makes money only if the stock goes up and must keep shareholders happy or be held accountable. Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, while they earn only $1 a year in salary, control classes of stock outside investors can’t touch.

That puts Google’s lucrative search and YouTube services further out of reach of the little guy. And that’s why Guttridge is betting on Bezos. “You buy equities because you expect to benefit from the free cash flow of the business,” he says. “With Amazon, you have a clear line between asset turns and cash flow.”

By Steve H. Hanke

www.cato.org/people/hanke.html

Twitter: @Steve_Hanke

Steve H. Hanke is a Professor of Applied Economics and Co-Director of the Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Prof. Hanke is also a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.; a Distinguished Professor at the Universitas Pelita Harapan in Jakarta, Indonesia; a Senior Advisor at the Renmin University of China’s International Monetary Research Institute in Beijing; a Special Counselor to the Center for Financial Stability in New York; a member of the National Bank of Kuwait’s International Advisory Board (chaired by Sir John Major); a member of the Financial Advisory Council of the United Arab Emirates; and a contributing editor at Globe Asia Magazine.

Copyright © 2015 Steve H. Hanke - All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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