In the fourth quarter, Amazon's net income dropped 43% from last year to $199 million, or $0.47 per diluted share. Sales increased a respectable 17% to $2.98 billion, although earlier reports that Amazon had its best holiday season ever probably caused investors to hope for a little bit more in that regard.
On the other hand, Amazon's no slacker in terms of generating cash. This longtime Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation highlighted the fact that it generated more than $500 million in free cash flow in the past year. Cash and cash equivalents at the company increased to $2 billion. On the other hand, Amazon also carries a formidable amount of debt on its balance sheet, at $1.5 billion.
It's understandable that investors might have a hard time believing in Amazon right now. Although Amazon has announced some interesting initiatives lately, in its conference call it didn't offer much detail at all about digital plans, nor did it address video store rumors from earlier this week. And of course, many have been painfully aware that Amazon shares have been underperforming for quite some time now (Fools dueled over Amazon last month, as a matter of fact, and parried about elements such as these).
A lot of the sour sentiment on Wall Street today seems to stem from the idea that Amazon is less an Internet company than a retailer -- and seeing competition from both e-commerce names like eBay
Meanwhile, Amazon Prime is a major sticking point. For $79 per year, Amazon Prime subscribers get free two-day shipping. Although Amazon's management admits the product is "expensive," it also believes that it is driving sales and will be a long-term benefit. (And of course, Amazon's no stranger to sacrificing short-term margins for long-term gains in sales and loyal customers.)
I believe Amazon's a solid company with myriad strengths -- and having followed some of its recent initiatives, I see great potential for creating much more buzz and making its site more of a destination. Given the fact that Amazon is an Internet veteran now, I certainly wouldn't lose faith in the company's management, either.
Today's precipitous price drop may indeed represent an opportunity for investors who have been looking to get into Amazon: First off, it has brought the company's P/E ratio, at the very least, down to more palatable levels. However, at the moment it's not hard to imagine that Amazon's short term may include a few more incidents like today, and perhaps some better opportunities down the road. It seems that the appropriate adage here may very well be good things come . to those who wait.
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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.