Jeff Bezos built an empire that prospers, in part, because of globalization and the free trade that President-elect Donald Trump has railed against. Trump also once said Amazon had a “huge anti-trust problem.”
President-elect Donald Trump seems to have no love for Amazon.com’s CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, a newspaper that aggressively investigated the candidate during a no-holds barred campaign.
He also once said that Amazon, which dominates e-commerce, has a “huge antitrust problem,” given that the company “is controlling so much of what they’re doing.
So what are the prospects for America’s fifth largest company by market value under an administration led by the Republican firebrand?
Bezos built an empire based, in part, on Internet sales of goodies that stem from the overseas factories that Trump has said have stolen American jobs.
Free trade fills the company’s sails — as it builds a planetary network of warehouses, transportation and profitable data centers that are turning it into a truly global store. At the end of 2015, more than a third of Amazon’s physical footprint was in countries other than the U.S., and about 32 percent of its retail sales were made overseas. Trump has also railed against the trade deals that facilitate some of that commerce, saying they’re not advantageous enough to the U.S.
Investors seemed to sniff some danger: Amazon shares fell $15.87, or 2 percent, to $771.88 Wednesday, even as the wider stock market shrugged off initial fears about a Trump presidency.
Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment. Its annual report contains language about potential negative impacts of protectionist measures, including U.S. laws and policies “affecting trade,” that before Tuesday could have seemed boilerplate, but since Trump’s election now have some relevance.
A hostile environment in its U.S. home base would add to some of the policy issues it has run into overseas, including antitrust and tax investigations in Europe.
Colin Sebastian, an analyst with Baird, said it’s unlikely a U.S. administration could build an antitrust case against Amazon, which remains small in terms of global retail. “They’re not a majority player,” he said.
As for the potential impact of higher tariffs, “that would affect a lot of companies,” including major competitors that offer less selection than Amazon, and are therefore more vulnerable, Sebastian said.
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As the dust settles over the idea of a Trump victory, other retailers are certainly looking at the oncoming administration’s stance on trade.
J. Craig Shearman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, a trade group for big retailers, showed concern in a blog post Wednesday about Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement that would cut tariffs, as well as the president-elect’s threats to “tear up” the North American Free Trade Agreement and impose “huge” tariffs on Chinese imports.
“NRF strongly opposes new tariffs and supports TPP and other free trade agreements because retailers rely heavily on imported merchandise,” he wrote.
Suresh Kotha, a professor of management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, says tearing up those trade pacts is easier said than done.
”It’s easy to make a threat, it’s very hard to govern,” Kotha said.
Kotha added that modifying any existing trade agreements could take years.
If the Trump administration is consumed by an all-out effort to wipe out the Affordable Care Act, there may be little room left for increased protectionism, especially when needing the support of many Republicans who have long seen free trade as a core tenet, he said.
In the end, pragmatism may reign, especially as the now large middle classes of Asia have become a key target for U.S. companies and products. Amazon is no different there: it’s investing billions in India, a country it considers one of its critical growth prospects, and recently launched a version of its Prime service in China that provides Chinese customers with access to products sourced from U.S. warehouses.
“We need those markets more than they need us,” Kotha said.