In a zero-sum view of the retail/e-commerce world, Amazon’s lost is almost everybody else’s gain.
That seemed to be the thinking Wednesday when Amazon’s stock dropped and traditional retailers gained as investors wondered if President Trump’s open hostility toward the e-tail giant and its founder Jeff Bezos could eventually translate into some kind of policy action.
Shares of Amazon dropped 4.4 percent to $1,431.42, pushing its market capitalization down $32 billion to $693 billion, after political web site Axios quoted sources who said Trump was “obsessed” with the company and that he “wondered aloud if there may be any way to go after Amazon with antitrust or competition law.” At its low for the day, the stock had lost $53 billion in market value.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives, Wall Street was unnerved by D.C.’s heightened concerns over the tech sector, thanks largely to the current Facebook scandal. Cambridge Analytica reportedly gained unauthorized access to Facebook user data and used it for targeting in the last presidential election. Chief executive officer and founder Mark Zuckerberg is expected to testify before Congress.
“[Trump targeting Bezos and Amazon] remains a lingering cloud over the stock and heightens the risk profile in the eyes of the Street,” Ives said. But with no specific policy changes targeting Amazon on the table yet, GBH Insights still recommends the shares.
“With media reports today that President Trump is ‘obsessed’ with Amazon and is exploring anti-trust, regulatory and potential tax ramifications/changes for Bezos & Co., the Street is now fearful that the long-awaited Trump vs. Amazon battle could finally be on the horizon,” Ives warned clients Wednesday in a note titled “Trump and Amazon on a Collision Course? Worries Now an Overhang on the Stock.”
Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin has said in the past that Trump supports local and state sales taxes for Internet purchases and the Supreme Court is considering the issue. But on Wednesday White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there were no specific policies or actions that were under consideration.
Asked about the Internet sales tax in the context of the report and Amazon’s stock decline, Huckabee Sanders said: “The President has said many times before, he’s always looking to create a level playing field for all businesses and this is no different. He’s always going to look at different ways, but there aren’t any specific policies on the table at this time.”
Even if Washington does ultimately take action, GBH’s Ives said policy changes will barely make a dent in Amazon’s financials.
“The reality of these worries altering the company’s business model and future tax structure are low and we would be buyers of the name on weakness,” Ives said.
The analyst doubled down on rating Amazon shares as “highly attractive” and restated his price target of $1,850, a 24 percent upside to Tuesday’s close.
But things can change quickly in Trump’s Washington and the President has complained repeatedly about the coverage of his administration in The Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos personally.
In June, Trump tweeted: “The #AmazonWashingtonPost, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying Internet taxes (which they should) is FAKE NEWS!”
Investors apparently calculated that the resurfacing of Amazon as an issue, even if it’s just anonymous analysis from Trump’s evening call list, is enough to help retailers, even those that were the subject of past beefs. (Trump once told WWD, “I hate chokers,” after Macy’s Inc. dropped his line, and has also complained that Nordstrom Inc. treated his daughter, Ivanka, “so unfairly.”)
Among the retail and related gainers on Wednesday were J.C. Penney Co. Inc., up 5 percent to $3.05; Macy’s Inc., 4.3 percent to $29.07; Dillard’s Inc., 4 percent to $79.58; Simon Property Group Inc., 3.6 percent to $155.91; Kohl’s Corp., 2.8 percent to $64.56; Walmart Inc., 2 percent to $87.77, and Nordstrom Inc., 1 percent to $47.90.