Is Inc. Spreading Itself Too Thin?

If you follow (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) , by now you've likely heard CEO Jeff Bezos has done it yet again. Seemingly never content with being the world's largest e-tailer, Amazon dropped nearly a $1 billion in cash on video streaming monster Twitch, the wildly popular site that gives folks the ability to build their own personal gaming "channels," as well as watch other gamers do their thing.

As one of the top five video streaming sites on the planet, Twitch certainly offers Amazon a world of opportunity in the fast-growing world of online gaming. And let's not forget Bezos' recent announcement that Amazon is preparing to take on search juggernaut Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) in its own backyard: digital advertising. The question is, after nearly 20 years of existence, just how much longer can Bezos and team continue to spend indiscriminately on infrastructure and expanding into new markets, without making any profit?

The latest Bezos forays
With about $8 billion in cash and equivalents on the books as of the end of its recently completed 2014 Q2, the $970 million Amazon is spending on Twitch won't have an overwhelmingly negative impact on its balance sheet. And there's no denying Twitch is wildly successful.

A report earlier this year makes it clear just how big Twitch is: Over 43% of all live streaming done in the U.S. was Twitch-related, and nearly 60% of its users spend over 20 hours a week watching themselves or others do their gaming thing. Why watching other gamers is so enthralling is a bit baffling -- only a true gamer could answer that -- but so, too, is the line of reasoning behind acquiring Twitch. Does it have a world of potential? Sure, but how much longer does Amazon get a pass from investors?

If it seems as though Amazon simply bounces from one huge potential opportunity to the next, it's because it does. You may recall that the past several years Amazon has been building out its distribution centers across the country, and spending wildly to do it, with plans to open its fifth such facility in California alone. With a total of 131 distribution centers worldwide, and plans for more, spending on infrastructure will continue to impact Amazon's bottom line.

But at least all that spending on new distribution facilities speaks to Amazon's core business. The Twitch acquisition? Seems more like one of Bezos' new toys, and he didn't stop after acquiring his new gaming site. Amazon recently announced its intention to go head-to-head with digital ad king Google, yet again, developing its own ad placement tool to assist prospective advertisers in placing spots on its site.

With 250 million shoppers on Amazon, it certainly has access to loads of customer data, data that it can use to help marketers target ads. Does online advertising make sense for such an extremely popular site? Sure, except when you combine it with gaming, smartphones, home delivery drones, cloud services, original video content, and the list goes on and on. Yes, all that sounds like Google, which has also been accused of stretching itself too thin at times.

Show me the money
It's a question that's been asked of Amazon for years: At what point will Bezos be held responsible for generating profits? With a stock price of around $340 a share, investors certainly don't seem overly concerned. And Amazon continues to generate more and more revenue, along with impressive free cash flow, but profitability goes out the window as Amazon continues to spend at an astounding pace. Last quarter was a perfect example. Amazon generated about $3.63 billion more than Q2 2013, that's the good news. However, total operating expenses jumped a whopping $3.73 billion last quarter.

And don't expect profits anytime soon, either. After losing $126 million last quarter, things are going to get worse in the coming quarter, not better, according to Amazon. Now factor in a $970 million acquisition, even more distribution centers, and entering new markets like smartphones and advertising, and Amazon's losses may extend well beyond the current quarter.

Final Foolish thoughts
Taken individually, Amazon's ongoing spending makes some long-term sense. Certainly, well positioned distribution centers will eventually reduce overhead by limiting delivery costs. It could also be argued that Amazon's phones, drones, ads, and all the other forays it's either in, or exploring, each have merit.

The question is: When does Amazon circle the wagons, and actually try and generate profits from its multiple, far-flung efforts? Bezos will tell you to continue being patient, Amazon isn't spread too thin because all these businesses will pay off in the future. But when, exactly, does Amazon's "future" begin?

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  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 2:37 PM, spinod wrote:

    No, Amazon already expanded into games. Plus this not only expands them into games, it expands them into online video platforms.

    Their gadgets are expanding prime. Both tablets and phone are completely tied to Prime in every way.

    They are expanding by focusing on the core. It's not like Yahoo buying random start ups, then killing them a year later.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 2:41 PM, duuude1 wrote:

    Hey Tim,

    Do you think even Bezos knew that AWS would be such a major growth driver, or even a product offering when he started AMZN? At what point in time do you think it dawned on anyone at AMZN that it would be a great idea to offer their website to other vendors, heck even competitors, and form an e-marketplace? A mere decade+ and the idea of an online bookseller sounds cute, quaint, even myopic. And as you mentioned, they are throwing off cash like crazy. Who cares about profits, by the wall-street and accounting definitions - since when have they ever been right anyways? Give a winning horse the rein and let it run. Or put another way - don't be the farmer who killed the goose laying the golden eggs. Leave the freaking goose alone!



  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 2:51 PM, notyouagain wrote:

    Since AMZN seems determined to kill off all other businesses, why in the world would any of them wish to feed the beast by giving advertising dollars....?

    Oh, I bet they will... just seems kinda stupid.

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Tim Brugger

Tim has been writing professionally for several years after spending 18 years (Whew! Was it that long?)in both the retail and institutional side of the financial services industry. Tim resides in Portland, Oregon with his three children and the family dog.

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