Far from its beginnings 24 years ago as an online bookseller, Amazon follows Apple, which reached the $1 trillion valuation mark earlier this year. It was a temporary milestone, as Amazon shares hit $2,049.50 Tuesday morning and then fell back.
Amazon hit a market value of $1 trillion Tuesday. And while it wasn’t the first to reach the milestone, it raced to the mark with greater speed.
The Seattle e-commerce company’s stock traded at $2,049.50 at 11:35 a.m. New York time, pushing its market capitalization over the trillion-dollar mark. It followed in the footsteps of Apple, which became the first trillion-dollar company early last month.
Amazon’s market value later dipped below the trillion-dollar mark again, with the stock closing Tuesday at $2,039.51. That gave the company a market capitalization of about $995 billion.
The landmark valuation was reached after two decades of growth in online retail, but was pushed the final mile by Amazon’s other businesses – largely cloud computing and its expansion into physical retail, notably with the purchase of upscale grocer Whole Foods.
“It’s not so much that they reached the milestone, but how quickly they reached it,” said Tuna Amobi, an analyst with investment-research firm CFRA.
Indeed, just over a year ago, Amazon’s market value hit the $500 billion milestone, stirring speculation it might become the first company to hit a $1 trillion valuation. Amazon went on to surpass Microsoft’s market value early this year, then it passed Google parent company Alphabet. But it couldn’t catch up to Apple and its four decades of selling computer hardware before the Cupertino, Californis, company hit the trillion-dollar milestone Aug. 2.
Still, Amazon raced to the mark far faster than Apple did. While Apple lumbered through the final stretch of its slog toward $1 trillion, needing 15 months to traverse the last $200 billion, Amazon covered the same ground in a three-month sprint.
Amazon’s shares are up 75 percent since the start of the year. Among big tech companies, that year-to-date growth rate is surpassed only by Netflix, whose stock has grown 80 percent. Apple has gained more than 32 percent this year.
In the past 10 years, Amazon’s market value has grown 30-fold while Apple’s value has increased just eight-fold.
Not just online retail
Starting as a new way to sell books in the early years of the internet, Amazon has grown into an online behemoth and has changed the retail landscape across the world. It was at the forefront of the consumer subscription trend — with revenue from its $119 annual Prime service, plus other subscription services, growing 57 percent to $3.4 billion in its latest quarter.
For years, Amazon rarely posted a quarterly profit, a trend that only occasionally fazed investors as they trusted that Amazon was instead investing in growing its wide range of businesses.
The ratio of Amazon’s stock price to its earnings for the last 12 months is nearly 162, compared to 33.8 for the Nasdaq composite, but Amobi said the high P-E ratio is a just another sign that investors recognize how much of its earnings Amazon pours back into the company.
The 24-year-old company has dipped its toes into everything from e-reader devices, to smart speakers that act as home personal assistants, to physical grocery stores.
It’s difficult to overlook the impact of buying Whole Foods as Amazon’s profits grew and it raced toward the trillion-dollar valuation. In June of last year, the Seattle company announced its $13.5 billion intention to buy the grocery store, and has since implemented deals and discounts for members of its Prime program at locations in several cities.
But the real driver of Amazon’s increased profitability – it posted a record quarterly profit of $2.5 billion in July – is Amazon Web Services, the world’s largest cloud-computing platform.
AWS, which allows other companies to rent computing power, brought in $6.1 billion in sales during the period, a 49 percent increase from a year ago. When Amazon started breaking out AWS results in 2015, investors began realizing the business could be even more profitable than originally thought, said Brent Thill, an analyst with Jefferies.
That put it in the moneymaking leagues of big commercial software companies like Microsoft and Oracle. AWS is on track to make $20 billion this year, and Thill believes about one-third of Amazon’s market valuation can be attributed to the success of AWS.
“Investors don’t love retail just for the sake of retail,” Thill said. “They love retail surrounded by a much higher recurring revenue, higher profitable business that gives a business more predictability.”
Bounty for Bezos
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, has reaped the benefits of his early bet on the internet. His personal wealth — he owns more than 78 million Amazon shares, or about 16 percent of the company — has ballooned alongside Amazon’s stock price. Last fall he overtook Medina neighbor and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to become the world’s richest man.
Bezos is now worth $168 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after a $2.1 billion boost Tuesday.
Amazon’s next frontier
As Amazon has grown, so has the city of Seattle, especially in South Lake Union, where the company is headquartered and employs about 45,000 people. The Puget Sound region, long home to big businesses Boeing and Microsoft, has experienced a growing tech boom over the past decade, thanks in part to Amazon’s expansion.
“The more tech that is located in and succeeds in Seattle, the more valuable it is to locate more tech in Seattle,” said longtime Seattle technology investor Tren Griffin, who now works at Microsoft. In the neighborhoods just north, west and east of Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, tech companies Facebook, Google and Expedia are expanding their own campuses.
Meanwhile, Amazon is searching for a North American location for its second headquarters, which it says will be equal in size to that in Seattle. It has narrowed the list of applicant cities to 20, but has given no indication when it will name its second home except to say it will be this calendar year.
Amazon, which employs more than 570,000 people across the world, still has room to grow, said Jefferies analyst Thill.
The trillion-dollar valuation – which has little real-world value except as a sign of investor confidence – is unlikely to be the peak for Amazon.
The company still has markets to expand into – in retail, cloud computing, health care or physical stores – and possibly whichever industry it targets next.
Information from Bloomberg News is included in this report.