Why Wall Street can’t quit Amazon

Once again, the web retail giant reports a loss – and the stock market cheers anyway. An expert reacts

Topics: , , , , ,

Why Wall Street can't quit AmazonAmazon CEO Jeff Bezos (Credit: Reuters)

Web retail and warehouse giant Amazon revealed Thursday that it had notched $17.09 billion in third-quarter revenue while losing $41 million. As the New York Times’ David Streitfeld noted, that “followed a familiar script” for the company: “it sold vast quantities of things, lost money while doing so, and investors were delighted.” What gives?

“I think we have seen repeatedly that the stock market can be highly irrational,” economist Dean Baker told Salon in a Friday email. “The tech bubble was not very long ago. All sorts of nonsense companies had market values of hundreds of millions or even billions. When social media was really hot Groupon was worth 12 billion – that’s for selling coupons on the web – novel idea.”

Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru told the Times that Amazon was “the teacher’s pet of Wall Street,” because no other company in the world “has the consistently abominable rate of profitability they do and yet has the stratospheric valuation they do.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a Thursday statement touting the $17 billion and noting (further down) an expected net negative profit, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos ticked off a series of highlights from the company’s past “busy few months.” Those ranged from “brought 8 million square feet of fulfillment center capacity online” to “signed up millions of new Prime members,” to “announced Kindle MatchBook, Login & Pay, and nine new original TV pilots…”

But Baker, the co-director of the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research, declared himself a “serious skeptic” on the company’s potential to reap big future profits. While noting he couldn’t rule out the possibility, Baker cited the coming “end of their sales tax subsidy,” as increasing numbers of states will charge the same tax on Amazon purchases as other retail. “In a state like California,” said Baker, “that’s 8 percent off the top.”

Baker told Salon that Amazon’s economic impact has been “mixed”: on the one hand, “It has accelerated the move to the web” and “really broke through to create a user-friendly web reader.” On the other, “it has put many small retailers out of business – in part because of its sales tax subsidy. It has also cost state and local governments tens of billions in tax revenue.”



Amazon has also come under increased scrutiny in recent years for the labor conditions in its quickly expanding network of “fulfillment centers.” Amazon warehouse workers told the The Morning Call in 2011 that they “were forced to endure brutal heat” and “were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain” and that firings of workers who didn’t keep up “encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury…” Former workers told The Seattle Times in 2012 that “there was pressure to manage injuries so they would not have to be reported to OSHA,” and some “said that in its relentless push for efficiency, Amazon was quick to shed workers who, regardless of tenure, could no longer measure up.” Amazon touts its warehouse jobs as better-paying than traditional retail and safer than department store work.

“Amazon is growing rapidly, but they’re not creating good jobs,” labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein told Salon in July. “They’re creating insecure, temporary, attenuated jobs, which are reproducing all the pathologies of a two-tier labor market and a world of inequality – that’s what they’re creating.” Lichtenstein, the author of “Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business,” added that Amazon was “a fabulously successful company with a new technology that could create a solid working class, but they chose to instead create something that looks like it’s out of the 19th century.”

In order for that success to translate into profit, would Amazon have to drive more competitors out of business? “I’m sure that Amazon is betting on getting some serious market power,” said Baker, “which is a necessary basis for its profitability.”

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...