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Michael Maggi, CFA
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I am currently an analyst at Standard & Poor's and as a result am not an active contributor to this site or any others. However, previous to my current position I worked for myself as an investment analyst and equity trader, and published research on my webpage, Money by Maggi. I also worked... More
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  • A Great Company, But Not So Great Investment

    Oftentimes, great companies are not great investments. (NASDAQ:AMZN) is a prime example (pun intended) of this conundrum.

    Don't get me wrong, I love Amazon and believe it is a great, well-run company. However, as an investment, it just doesn't make any sense. In fact, it has many of the opposite characteristics you look for in an investment - increasing valuation metrics; poor and decreasing margins (for the most part); increasing capital expenditures (capex); and uncertainty over when these financial metrics will improve.

    The thing that most surprises me is that for a company that generates roughly $20 billion in sales each quarter (on average), they cannot seem to generate sufficient (or any) profits. For example, AMZN's earnings results that were posted yesterday for the quarter ended June 30, 2014 showed a net loss of -$126 million - which was actually worse than their previous year's quarterly numbers which showed a net loss (again) of -$7 million.

    Not only do these net losses represent negative net profit margins, but over the years the company has continued to post decreasing net profit margins almost every year over the last decade. Moreover, until recently, both gross and EBITDA margins were also in a downtrend.

    Net Profit Margin8.5%4.2%1.8%3.2%3.4%3.7%3.4%1.3%-0.1%0.4%3.0%
    Gross Margin23.1%24.0%22.9%22.6%22.3%22.6%22.3%22.4%24.8%27.2%23.4%
    EBIT Margin6.4%5.1%3.6%4.4%4.4%4.6%4.1%1.8%1.1%1.0%3.7%
    EBITDA Margin7.8%7.6%6.2%6.6%6.6%6.4%6.2%4.3%4.6%5.2%6.1%

    In addition, over the past decade, Amazon has posted declining return on assets, or ROA, declining return on equity, or ROE, and declining return on invested capital, or ROIC. Further, other measures of efficiency (i.e. receivables turnover, inventory turnover, fixed assets turnover, and assets turnover) and elements of the cash conversion cycle (days sales outstanding, days inventory, and payables period), have all exhibited negative characteristics over the past several years.

    For example, all of the company's turnover ratios mentioned above have decreased over the years, while days sales outstanding, days inventory, and payables period have all increased, which have caused the cash conversion cycle, or CCC to increase. Although the CCC remains negative - which is usually viewed as a positive signal - it has increased from a high of -43 days to -30 days over the past four years.

    Return on Assets %21.7510.344.728.788.728.157.072.86-0.130.757.30
    Return on Equity %--56.1358.4833.3422.7519.018.63-0.493.0625.11
    Return on Invested Capital %-25.3613.8925.0823.7621.3118.
    Receivables Turnover41.8035.8931.8326.8825.0227.0126.5723.1320.5918.3127.70
    Inventory Turnover13.7512.3411.4411.0611.4610.639.899.108.348.0610.61
    Fixed Assets Turnover29.4228.5826.6129.6727.4422.8618.4714.0810.658.2721.61
    Asset Turnover2.562.452.662.742.592.
    Days Sales Outstanding8.7310.1711.4713.5814.5913.5113.7415.7817.7319.9313.92
    Days Inventory26.5429.5831.9033.0131.8434.3336.9240.1043.7645.2835.33
    Payables Period67.3070.9470.3573.2978.2888.4693.8393.9597.1295.8382.94
    Cash Conversion Cycle-32.03-31.19-26.98-26.70-31.85-40.62-43.17-38.06-35.63-30.62-33.69

    Source: Morningstar

    Meanwhile, Amazon's balance sheet has weakened somewhat over the recent years - aided by an increasing debt load and increasing debt to equity (D/E) ratio. Not only has the company experienced increasing financial leverage, but their D/E ratio has doubled over the last five years from 1.6 in 2009 to just over 3 in 2013. Additionally, since 2010, the company's interest coverage ratio has decreased significantly from approximately 36 in 2010 to just above 5 as of the end of 2013, exacerbated by the $3 billion in unsecured notes that were issued in 2012.

    Ultimately, despite posting average annual revenue growth around 30% each year, AMZN has very little profits to show for it. While Amazon might eventually be able to capitalize on their scale, and grow their bottom line, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the stock in the near future. Add in a P/E ratio of 555, a P/B ratio of 16, a P/CF ratio of 31, and an EV/EBITDA ratio of 42, and there just does not seem to be a reason to hold the stock right now.

    Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

    Jul 25 12:45 PM | Link | Comment!
  • Advice For John Chen And The Rest Of BlackBerry's Management

    Full disclosure: although I am not currently long or short shares of BBRY, I have been an avid user of the company's smartphones, and am a fan of their products. My first smartphone in 2008 was a BlackBerry and I have been trading up for their newer smartphones for the past six years. It was only recently that I traded in my BlackBerry for an iPhone, and to say the least I am not satisfied with Apple's product for a variety of reasons - most of which I knew going in.

    BlackBerry smartphones have always received the same complaints in the past among its users: the browser is slow; there are not enough apps; the software is slow; the phone freezes and often turns off on its own; etc. I am happy to say that while the company has fixed some of those issues - most importantly the browser and software issues - there are still some apps that are missing and the phone still freezes and turns off on its own. For me, it was this last issue that was the final straw.

    I'll admit I was probably one of the few people who was excited for the new Q10 smartphone to come out last June and wouldn't be surprised if I was the first person to purchase it when it became available at Verizon. For the first six months I loved the phone as the new internet browser and BB10 software were both far and away better and faster than their predecessors. As expected, the keyboard was phenomenal, and I was surprisingly happy with the additional touchscreen feature that complemented the physical keyboard.

    As for the apps - well I am not one that really cares about apps and hardly use that many now on the iPhone. Personally, as long as there is Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn I am pretty happy. It would be nice, however, if BlackBerry could somehow find a way to get an Instagram app, but again not a deal-breaker by any means.

    What is not acceptable to me though is having a phone that freezes for no reason, sends duplicate text messages, and turns on and off by itself. After three months of this beginning in January, I finally had enough and switched to an iPhone.

    So now, as I write this, I plead with John Chen and the rest of BlackBerry's management team to fix these issues and maintain their loyal user base. Nothing would please me more than to switch back to a BlackBerry and really stick it to Apple. Not that they would care at all about one person switching back, but you have to start somewhere, and there are others out there with similar feelings.

    My advice to you BlackBerry is simple. Play to your strengths.

    At a time when internet security is one of the leading issues today, BlackBerry still has the advantage and should market that to the ends of the earth.

    Additionally, I really don't understand the point of a touchscreen-only BlackBerry. It makes no sense to me. The company still has loyal users (see: crackberry) because of the physical keyboard. Having used the unreliable and finicky iPhone "keyboard" for over three months now, it is more frustrating than ever to type on it. Granted my sausage fingers don't help make it easier, but when autocorrect corrects the wrong words and leaves the right words, it is not only frustrating but highly inefficient.

    Ultimately, a smartphone is still a phone - first and foremost. That is what people need to understand. I don't want a 7-inch screen on which to watch cat videos or an app that lets me pay for my Starbucks. What I want is a phone that actually makes phone calls, efficiently and effectively communicates emails, texts and BBMs, and allows me to browse the internet quickly. Oh - and for the phone to stay on all the time and not freeze or turn off on its own. While apps are secondary, some are necessary nowadays and others are nice to have. Doesn't seem to hard, right?

    In addition, another issue that put me over edge with BlackBerry was their ineffectiveness in getting their 10.2 software update out quicker to its users. After months of delays and lack of communication from both BlackBerry and Verizon, it was beyond frustrating. Clearly I wasn't the only one too as many BlackBerry customers took to the message boards in search of answers only to find none.

    Chen's recent comments at the Code Conference last week regarding making the handset business profitable again is bullish for the company, and I would like to see what exactly he intends to do to get there. Again, I urge him to ditch the touchsceen-only phones and focus solely on their key strength - the physical keyboard! If the company can fix the bugs in their existing Q10 phones while lowering their cost somewhat to undercut the more expensive Apple and Android phones, users will undoubtedly come back. Already there are tons of instances where touchscreen-only users went back to the safety, comfort and reliability of the physical keyboard.

    Furthermore, BlackBerry management should be focusing on exploiting the current smartphone landscape where iPhone hacking and iMessage issues dominate the headlines. Again, play to your strengths - security, security, security. Moreover, it is remarkable how many users still love the company's BlackBerry Messenger Service (BBM) - especially at a time when Apple's counterpart (iMessage) has been dealing with more and more bugs, specifically when customers switch from the iPhone to any other type of phone.

    Oddly enough, another thing I miss since switching to the iPhone is the red indicator light which lets users know that they have some sort of alert pending (missed call, text, email, BBM, etc.). Although Android phones apparently have this feature, iPhone users are still left in the dark (pun intended).

    Aside from the company's handsets, BlackBerry has a variety of other strengths such as their QNX software, Enterprise Server, Mobile Device Management (NASDAQ:MDM), etc. All of these products and services should translate favorably to the company's shareholders. In fact, when Ford ditches Microsoft's Sync in favor of BlackBerry's QNX multimedia software for use in their cars, that will prove to be a huge boost to BlackBerry and its bottom line.

    In all honesty, the fact that BlackBerry is a public company somewhat hamstrings them by forcing the company to focus more on the short-term rather than the longer-term. Perhaps if the company were taken private, users of their products and services would be better served.

    Considering the amount of loyal BlackBerry users - approximately 50 million according to Forbes magazine - and the fact that Chen believes the company only needs to sell 10 million handsets to be profitable, the task certainly does not seem insurmountable.

    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

    Jun 02 3:50 PM | Link | 5 Comments
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