Amazon’s market capitalization topped a half-trillion dollars Wednesday. That’s an exclusive circle that includes only three other publicly traded U.S. companies, including crosstown rival Microsoft.
Observers have often speculated that Amazon.com might become the first company worth a trillion dollars. On Wednesday, a day before the release of its second-quarter financial results, it got halfway there.
Shares of the e-commerce giant closed up 1.2 percent at $1,052.80 Wednesday, bringing Amazon’s market capitalization to $503.2 billion, the first time it has surpassed the half-trillion mark.
It’s an exclusive club that includes only three other publicly traded U.S. companies: Apple, Alphabet and crosstown rival Microsoft, which saw its shares surge past that mark for the second time in its history in January.
To be sure, $500 billion is just a number — it changes nothing about Amazon’s positioning versus its rivals. Before passing the market milestone, Amazon already had been America’s fourth-largest company and the eighth-largest employer in the Fortune 500. And other companies, such as Exxon Mobil and General Electric, have been part of the $500 billion circle in the past and then seen their market value dip below that significant threshold.
But it stands as a sign of how favorably Wall Street views tech companies, and in particular, Amazon — a major disrupter with a confederacy of businesses that range from retail to the very profitable rental of computing power and storage.
It also legitimizes the two-decade-old company’s status as one of the corporate titans of this era.
“It’s almost mind-blowing,” said Tuna Amobi, an analyst with CFRA, an investment-research firm, of how quickly Amazon’s market cap has grown in the past few years.
“It’s not the same company that arguably existed five years ago,” he said. The market-value number signals not only Amazon’s prowess in retail, but also its achievements in cloud computing, media production and a bevy of other sectors.
It has some local impact. Pricier shares fill the wallets of tens of thousands of Amazonians working in Seattle who own Amazon stock or stock options (including CEO Jeff Bezos, who according to Forbes is now very close to dethroning Bill Gates as the richest man in the world). It also helps in the recruitment efforts of the company, which has 50,000 job openings at its warehouses and thousands of corporate tech and retail jobs open at its Seattle headquarters.
The surge in Amazon’s stock came a day before a quarterly earnings report that analysts expect to confirm continued growth. On average, analysts say Amazon is likely to tally $37.18 billion in revenue for the quarter ended in June, up 22.3 percent from the same period last year. They also predict earnings of $1.42 a share, down from $1.78 in the same period last year.
Analysts with research firm Cowen wrote in a report earlier this month that they expect the Amazon stock rally to continue. Their price target: $1,125 a share. At the center of their bullish thesis, the analysts said, is their belief that Amazon will continue to gain share in large markets that haven’t so far been a core part of the company’s operations, such as groceries and apparel. Cloud computing is also a strong driver, the analysts wrote.
Ups and downs
Amazon’s ascension to the $500 billion milestone also underscores how wildly the company’s fortunes, and investors’ perceptions of its potential, have swung since it first traded in public markets in 1997.
Between March 1998 and March 1999, in the midst of the dot-com boom, Amazon shares skyrocketed 855 percent to nearly $20 billion, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Then the dot-com crash came — and Amazon’s value plummeted to about $3.6 billion in March 2000.
Over the next decade, Amazon’s market value grew along with the company’s prospects, seeing some big jumps, a couple of dips and even some stagnation in 2014 and 2015.
Amazon’s penchant for providing investors with vague guidance on its financial outlook and for investing the bulk of its earnings back into the company irked many on Wall Street. The unpredictability of quarterly results resulted in big gyrations come earnings time.
That all changed when the company started breaking out the results of Amazon Web Services, its cloud computing unit, in April 2015. Not only was the unit growing quickly, but it was also quite the moneymaker: a $5 billion-a-year business that had a much higher operating profit margin than Amazon’s retail operations. AWS is now a $14 billion-a-year business.
And in the past year or so, as department stores and other traditional retailers have faltered, Amazon’s e-commerce-based retail business is looking even more attractive to investors.
So is its unfettered ambition. News or even rumors about Amazon’s forays into fields such as apparel, pharmaceuticals or groceries have helped build an image of dominance, even if Amazon’s sales still account for a relatively small share of the U.S. retail sector.
Amazon’s conquistador reputation was cemented last month by the surprise agreementto acquire Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion, a sign that it was not only making a big push into groceries, but also in the brick-and-mortar world.
“There’s so much momentum behind Amazon right now, both as a stock and as a company,” said Cooper Smith, an analyst who closely tracks Amazon at consultancy L2. “They’re really running on all eight cylinders today.”
Jobs, jobs, jobs
Amazon’s growth has resulted in a ballooning workforce. At the end of the first quarter the company had 351,000 employees, a 43 percent jump from the previous year. Soon it will have many more.
On Wednesday, the company announced it would hold a giant, multisite job fair Aug. 2 to help fill 50,000 jobs it has open across its U.S. network of fulfillment centers. Some 1,000 of those jobs are in Washington state.
The e-commerce giant says that on the occasion it calls “Jobs Day” it will welcome applicants at 10 of its warehouses, including the one in Kent, where it plans to hire hundreds. Amazon says it will make “thousands” of job offers on the spot. There are positions also available at warehouses in DuPont and Sumner.
The move underscores the continued rapid growth of Amazon’s fulfillment operations. The company has invested billions building new facilities to catch up with increasing customer demand for the products sold on its website and to keep its promises of ever-quicker delivery.
Amazon says that most of the jobs available are full time and entail picking, packing and shipping customer orders. Some 10,000 of the opportunities on offer are part-time roles at sorting centers, smaller facilities that sift through packages shipped from Amazon’s warehouses and send them to local post offices.
Those who work more than 20 hours per week are eligible for benefits that are the same as those of Amazon’s corporate employees and include health insurance, retirement savings and paid leave.
The fulfillment centers participating in the Jobs Day, besides the one in Kent, are in Maryland, Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Illinois. They will be open to applicants between 8 a.m. and noon next Wednesday, Aug. 2.
The Kent center is at 21005 64th Ave. S.
This latest hiring spree — plus the addition of Whole Foods’ 87,000 employees, if the deal proceeds — could make Amazon the second-largest employer among the Fortune 500, after archrival Wal-Mart.