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Fool Mailbag: What's to Stop Amazon From Crushing MercadoLibre?

By Motley Fool Staff – Jul 18, 2017 at 6:30PM

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Listener Brian wants to know the Fools' views about the potential for a battle between the U.S. e-commerce giant and its South American counterpart.

In this segment from the Motley Fool Money radio show, host Chris Hill asks Million Dollar Portfolio's Matt Argersinger and Supernova and Rule Breakers' David Kretzmann to break down their views on the company many call (without irony) the (AMZN 2.10%) of Latin America. MercadoLibre (MELI 5.12%) is a powerhouse in its markets. But Jeff Bezos' behemoth has proved hard to stop once it sets its sights on -- well, anything. Is a battle between them coming?

A full transcript follows the video.

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Chris Hill: From Brian Lumadue in Tampa, Fla. Brian writes: "You've talked about MercadoLibre on numerous occasions. Could you ask your experts to weigh in more specifically on why they think Amazon won't go south and eat their lunch? Amazon is such a juggernaut on all other fronts. How could MercadoLibre have a big enough moat to defend against a full-frontal assault from Jeff Bezos?" I love that phrase. I think if the last book about Amazon was The Everything Store, I think the next book about Amazon is going to be called Full Frontal Assault.

Matt Argersinger: Not Tentacles? Not Big Massive Tentacles?

Hill: That'll be the cover art on Full Frontal Assault. It'll be an octopus with tentacles and Bezos' face on it. You're welcome, author out there. What do you think, Matty? You're a MercadoLibre fan. It's a legitimate question.

Argersinger: Absolutely. I think Brian's nailed my key primary risk factor for MercadoLibre, which is Amazon. For MercadoLibre to hold its leadership position and maintain its moat, you have to look at what they have right now where they're going -- 180 million registered users; they're on pace this year to have 10 million unique sellers and over 30 million unique buyers. That's a sizable network that Amazon hasn't come anywhere near. Now, Amazon is making inroads in Mexico, but they've left Brazil, Chile, Argentina, some of MercadoLibre's other markets, alone for now, which is good. If you look at MercadoLibre, they have twice the amount of user traffic in Brazil as the next competitor, and Amazon isn't even in the top 10. So they're the "it" e-commerce company in Brazil, which is the biggest market, biggest economy, biggest internet market in Latin America.

I think what MercadoLibre is doing, to follow the Amazon playbook, you have investing in payments, shipping, even fulfillment now. They're even looking at maybe a membership business. Those are the kind of things that endear users to the platform. They're providing a good experience. And I have to say that Amazon is really focusing on India right now. That's their big emerging market that they're putting all their capital in. That's where Jeff Bezos is having the full-frontal assault right now. So that makes me a little confident that maybe Brazil and Argentina are kind of a little bit off the radar, and they're not investing as much there, and that gives MercadoLibre more time to establish a bigger moat that maybe Amazon couldn't eventually cross. So fingers crossed for me as a MercadoLibre shareholder for sure.

David Kretzmann: Yeah, Amazon has been competing against MercadoLibre in Mexico for about three years now, and over the past five quarters, MercadoLibre's revenue in Mexico has actually accelerated each quarter. So even as Amazon has been investing more in Mexico, including launching Prime Mexico in March, MercadoLibre is still churning out accelerating results there. But that'll be a key thing to watch. Now that Prime has launched in Mexico, how does MercadoLibre hold up?

Argersinger: And I think in many ways, Mexico and Latin America in general, e-commerce is still relatively young and new. Even Amazon coming in might actually help MercadoLibre in the short term. It gets people interested in buying things online and being more comfortable doing it.

Chris Hill owns shares of Amazon. David Kretzmann owns shares of Amazon and MercadoLibre. Matthew Argersinger owns shares of Amazon and MercadoLibre and has the following options: short December 2017 $800 puts on Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and MercadoLibre. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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