Tag Archives: AMZN

Amazon.com’s Accounting Pornography

I wrote the following analysis on Amazon.com’s GAAP accounting manipulation for Seeking Alpha…

Amazon.com (AMZN) released its earnings on Thursday, February 1st after the market closed. The headline net income number was $3.85/share. This blew away Wall Street’s estimate of $1.85/share, which is a bit peculiar since the traditional “beat the Street” earnings game is accomplished by guiding Wall Street analysts to an earnings consensus that is slightly below the posted result.

The revenue growth rate was truly impressive. For Q4 2018 vs. 2017, revenues jumped 38.2%. For the full year, revenues grew 30.8%. However, without question AMZN’s free 2-day shipping associated with its Prime membership is the driving force behind sales growth. But at what cost? The table below shows AMZN’s revenue growth rate plus cost and operating margins from 2005 – 2007. The data is from AMZN’s 10-k filings.

Cost of fulfillment is the cost of de-stocking an item and getting it to the customer’s doorstep. The fourth line item above shows fulfillment costs over time. As you can see, the cost of fulfillment as a percentage of revenues has doubled since 2006. For every dollar of revenue, AMZN spends nearly 23 cents getting inventory delivered to end-users.

You can read the rest of this article here:   Amazon’s Deceptive Accounting Games

I also publish the Short Seller’s Journal, which is a weekly newsletter that provides insight on the latest economic data and provides short-sell ideas, including strategies for using options. You can learn more about this newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

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Amazon’s Shock And Awe Earnings

Yesterday ahead of earnings, AMZN’s stock dropped $60, with $30 of that drop occurring in the last hour of trading.   It’s almost as if market-makers, with their customary preview of the impending AMZN headline EPS report in hand,  intentionally took the price down to set-up a short-trap.  AMZN stock closed at $1390, down $60 from Wednesday’s close.

Shortly thereafter, AMZN’s earnings headline showed $3.85/share, more than double the consensus estimate produced by Wall Street’s Einstein Center For Earnings Forecasts.  $1.85 was the expectation.  AMZN’s stock shot up to as high as $1480 in after hours, up as much as $90 from the close.  Imagine how much money the Big Bank trading desks made assuming they bought all the shares that were sold short in the last hour of trading on Thursday.

Within the first eight minutes of today’s open, AMZN stock shot up to as high as $1495, up $105 from Thursday’s close.  As I write this, AMZN is trading below Wednesday’s close of $1450:

A round-trip to nowhere, essentially. Here’s the funny thing about AMZN’s earnings that Wall Street’s finest will never report, if they even know the truth. Embedded in AMZN’s net income is a $789 million non-cash “provisional” tax benefit for the estimated impact of the new tax law. Note that this is a somewhat arbitrarily determined number – which is why its labelled “provisional” – and it’s non-cash. This GAAP, non-cash tax “benefit,” as guesstimated by AMZN’s accountants, added $1.63 per share to AMZN’s headline EPS report.

Regardless of how you want to account for this, at face value AMZN’s stock is trading at 233x trailing earnings.  Not including the GAAP, non-cash tax benefit, AMZN stock is trading at 315x trailing earnings.

This is not the only problem with the quality of AMZN’s earnings.  I’ve dissected AMZN’s entire  financials for my Short Seller’s Journal subscribers, as reported, showing the areas in which AMZN has exploited the current highly liberalized GAAP accounting standards to generate the  appearance of financial performance that is not real.

Despite Jeff Bezos’ claim that AMZN generated $8.4 billion LTM “free cash flow,” this misleading metric was down 20% from the end of Q4 2016.  But that’s on display in the earnings slides that AMZN publishes every quarter.  On a true GAAP basis, AMZN generated an LTM cash flow deficit – i.e. negative $1.46 billion.

This is just a small portion of AMZN’s accounting abortion.  Unfortunately, until the capital markets are no longer willing to finance AMZN’s cash burning Rube Goldberg operational structure, the stock is very difficult to short.  There will come a time, however, when sand gets blown into Jeff Bezos’ elaborate gears of deception.  When this occurs, the rush for the exits by shareholder will be epic.

The Truth Behind Amazon’s Reported Earnings

This article below is from my Seeking Alpha post earlier this week.  I’ve studied AMZN’s financials and business model for several years. I’m probably one of the few analysts who bothers to scour the footnotes of AMZN’s financials. I was taught by the best at University of Chicago to start with the footnotes and work “up” when pulling apart GAAP financial statements.  I can say with 100% certainty that the “Free Cash Flow” that Jeff Bezos promotes with ardent zeal is a fictional number, if not fraud.  The SEC looks the other way.  Suffice it to say that AMZN’s true trailing twelve month free cash flow  based on strict GAAP is nearly negative $4 billion. I demonstrate this below.

Amazon Perfects the “Beat the Street” Game – Amazon (AMZN) reported 52 cents per share “earnings” on October 26th vs. the consensus 2 cent estimate after the market closed. The stock soared 7.8% after hours as hedge fund algos and retail daytraders chased the stock higher on the headline report. AMZN “walked” Street analysts’ estimates down to a number that was easy to “beat.” Ninety days ago the consensus estimate for Q3 was $1.09, with one estimate as high as $1.59. cents. By the time AMZN was about to report, the consensus estimate was two cents. This is how the game is played.

The graphic below from Yahoo Finance shows a 3-month timeline of this “walk-down” process for AMZN’s consensus earnings forecast for Q4 2017, Q1 2018 and the full-year 2017. The current estimates were again revised after the Company’s Q3 report (source: Yahoo.com/finance w/my edits):

Make no mistake: the company knowingly “guides” analysts down in order to engineer a “headline” surprise. The “beat the numbers” game is one of the many games connected with corporate earnings reports. That said, AMZN’s actual EPS in Q3 2017 was the same as Q3 2016 – zero EPS growth. Bear in mind that GAAP acquisition accounting is heavily at play here. Acquisition accounting enables a company to boost revenues and hide expenses.

[Note: All numbers are taken directly from AMZN’s Third Quarter 10-Q]

Here’s a fact that Wall Street or Bubblevision won’t report: in Q3 2016, AMZN’s GAAP tax rate was 47% vs 18% in Q3 2017. Anyone who has taken a basic accounting course knows that the GAAP tax rate is highly arbitrary and a major source of EPS manipulation. If AMZN had simply used a constant GAAP tax rate in Q3, its net income in Q3 would have declined to $200 million this year from $252 million in Q3 last year (remember these are GAAP earnings, not actual cash earnings). On this basis, AMZN’s EPS would have shown a drop from 53 cents last year to 41 cents this year. Anyone paying the current price of AMZN at a PE of 290 is likely ignorant of the fact that AMZN’s operating income is declining and its debt outstanding is increasing.

AMZN’s operating income plunged yr/yr for Q3 by $228 million, or nearly 40%. Operating income in its North American e-commerce business plunged $143 million, or 56%. AMZN’s e-commerce business lost $824 million on an operating business in Q3 (see p. 26 from the 10-Q linked above). YTD AMZN’s e-commerce business has lost nearly $1 billion). It likely would have been worse without Whole Foods numbers in mix. This is because, when AMZN acquired WFM, WFM’s operating margin was 4%. AMZN’s has been running near zero – it was 0.7% in Q3. Acquisition accounting, among other things, allows AMZN to present its numbers “as if,” meaning “as if” AMZN owned WFM since AMZN’s inception.

One of the primary reasons that AMZN’s operating margins decline continuously is the cost of fulfillment. “Fulfillment” is the cost of getting a product from the warehouse to the customer’s doorstep. In Q3 2016, AMZN’s fulfillment costs were 19.4% of product sales. By Q3 2017, it had jumped to 22.3%. Fulfillment is a cornerstone of AMZN’s e-commerce model. Offering free shipping to Prime members is a guaranteed money-loser.

In general and on average, AMZN loses money on every e-commerce sale. AMZN’s e-commerce/consumer products operating margin will continue to decline because the Company is implementing an aggressive price-cut program at Whole Foods. This will drive the WFM business margins toward zero.

AMZN’s only source of operating income is the AWS (cloud services) business. The revenue growth rate from 2016 to 2017 for Q3 was 41%. This is down from the 55% growth rate that occurred year over year from Q3 2015 to Q3 2016. Part of this is a function of “scale.” As the business grows in overall size, the growth rate will tend to decline mathematically. But the AWS revenues are just 10% of AMZN’s total revenues.

Furthermore, AMZN’s AWS business is now under heavy attack. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Cisco (CSCO) announced that they are teaming up to go after AWS’ cloud territory. More ominously for Amazon, Microsoft (MSFT) is quickly moving into and taking away AMZN’s market share in the commercial cloud space. Based on its FY Q1 numbers released Thursday, MSFT’s commercial cloud revenue annualized now exceeds AMZN’s AWS revenues annualized. AMZN historically has held the largest market share in cloud computing services. Given the new competition from dedicated tech companies, the profitability and growth of AMZN’s AWS business segment is at risk.

AMZN’s deceptive presentation of free cash flow – Every quarter AMZN presents an earnings slideshow, the first slide of which prominently shows trailing twelve month free cash flow. But this presentation of FCF is highly deceptive. On the first slide, AMZN shows its latest trailing twelve month FCF to be $8.050 billion. But that is a cherry-picked, non-GAAP derivation of actual free cash flow. Here’s AMZN’s actual GAAP FCF as derived from its Q3 10-Q (source: AMZN 10-Q, with my edits):

Free cash flow is technically defined as operating cash flow less capex expenditures and debt payments, the latter of which is negligible for AMZN – for now. Note the difference claimed to be $8.050 billion in “free cash flow” by Jeff Bezos and the negative $3.969 bullion actual GAAP FCF. Here’s the deal. Jeff Bezos conveniently omits the amount of cash AMZN spends to acquire property and equipment using capital leases and build-to-suit leases. To the extent that these expenditures are non-recurring, that presentation of FCF is valid. However, not only are AMZN’s expenditures under capital leases serially recursive, the payments increase every quarter and have been for several years. In 2014 AMZN’s full year cap lease expenditures was $4.9 billion. Thru Q3 2017, AMZN’s trailing twelve-month expenditure was $12 billion.

Furthermore, a “build-to-suit” property is built specifically for AMZN’s purposes. It likely is not easily sold re-leased for a next best use. Because of this, the lease functions as debt used to fund this capex. As such, the payments under build-to-suit leases should be treated as capex and not excluded from the derivation of free cash flow. Again, it’s an accounting sleight-of-hand employed by Bezos for the purposes of deception.

The use of capital leases to manipulate financials is not uncommon. However AMZN intentionally uses this financing techniques as mechanism to manipulate its numbers. Among other superficial accounting “benefits,” using capital leases rather than debt to fund expenditures enables keeps the appearance of debt off the balance sheet. It also allows AMZN to keep the cash used to fund capital leases out of the “Financing Activities” section of AMZN’s Statement of Cash Flows. AMZN is required to disclose the amount spent on cap leases, which it accomplishes in the footnotes. Very few analysts or investors bother to read the footnotes.

AMZN’s debt load – AMZN used $16 billion in near-junk bond rated debt to finance the Whole Foods acquisition. Its long term debt is now $24.7 billion. At the end of 2007, its long term debt was $1.2 billion. AMZN’s debt-load has grown by over 20x. However, at the end of Q3 2017, AMZN also had $18.8 billion in “other long-term liabilities.” This is almost entirely the capitalized leases used to fund property and equipment acquisitions. At the end of 2007, this number was $292 million. Use of cap leases has grown by a factor of 64x. Now, imagine if AMZN were forced by GAAP to include cap leases as part of its long term debt – not an unreasonable standard in this case. AMZN’s debt load would be $43.5 billion – nearly double the current disclosed level of debt.

See how this works? If AMZN were forced to consolidate cap leases into “long term debt,” its recent $16 billion bond deal would have been rated as non-investment grade – aka junk. The average cost of the $16 billion issued is 3.56%. If AMZN had been rated junk, it would have raised the cost of this deal by at least 100 basis points (1%) and likely more. Assuming an added cost of 1%, this would have added $160 million in interest expense. It might look like a smart move for Bezos to exploit GAAP accounting like this but it serves to pull the wool over the eyes of the investors who bought the bonds. This is because the true credit quality and ability to service the debt is significantly lower than that assumed by these investors.

The point here is that every facet of AMZN’s financials is highly misleading. AMZN is not what it appears to be. Yes, the stock has done remarkably well considering the ugly nature of the underlying truths. Note that AMZN did have a brush with insolvency in 2003-2004, but Warren Buffet bailed out AMZN by loading up on junk bonds Amazon had outstanding at the time. This was a temporary stay of execution that was followed up with the rapid inflation of the mid-2000’s credit and stock bubble, which enabled AMZN to refinance the junk bonds Buffet had bought. This gave AMZN plenty of cash to keep spending money to generate sales. AMZN also was bailed out by the bond market a couple years ago, as it issued $3 billion in debt in 2012 and $5 billion of debt in 2014. If AMZN is truly generating free cash flow, why does it continuously have to issue debt to fund its operations?

Amazon has thus been given a free pass by the financial markets for most of its existence. Make no mistake, AMZN can do this only for as long as market bubbles inflate. If the current credit/stock bubble is in the process of deflating or has popped when it comes time for AMZN to start paying down its heavy debt load, including the capital leases, it’s highly likely that the market won’t enable AMZN to continue kicking the can down the road by refinancing the debt payments. AMZN clearly does not generate free cash flow that can be used to make the debt payment obligations. Thus, in this scenario, there’s a strong probability that AMZN would hit the wall, inconceivable as that may seem right now.

AMZN’s stock has had a remarkable run this year in defiance of the true underlying fundamentals (click to enlarge):

Amazon is a difficult stock to short because of its correlation with the overall stock market. However I’ve been able to scalp profits on an intra-day basis using near-money weekly puts. Anyone who is willing to manage a short position on a daily basis will eventually be rewarded. When AMZN surprised the market by missing its Q2 earnings, the stock sold off $140 from top to bottom over 2 months. If AMZN misses Q4 earnings the stock could, minimally, fill the gap in the graph above ($980) – a $160 decline using the closing price on November 21st.

If you are interested in short-sell ideas like AMZN, please visit this link:  Short Seller’s Journal, where I offer a weekly newsletter that focuses on shorting the stock market.

As A Dog Returns To Its Vomit, Stock Jockeys Return To The Ponzi Stocks

Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria. – Sir John Templeton

I’ve always admired John Templeton. Not as the “father” of the modern mutual fund but because I considered him to have been one of the most intelligent thinkers in at least my lifetime (55 years). In 2003 he gave an interview from his retirement “perch” in the Bahamas to one of the financial media organizations. He stated at the time that he would not invest in the U.S. housing market until “home prices go down to one-tenth of the highest price homeowners paid.” Imagine what he would say today…

“As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). That proverb is particularly applicable to today’s “everything bubble,” especially stocks and housing. The current en vogue is to compare today’s market to 1987, when the Dow crashed 22.5% in one day. Honestly, I don’t think it matters whether you use 1929, 1987,
2000 or 2007. By just about any conceivable financial metric, the current stock market is the most overvalued, and thereby the most dangerous, in U.S. history. The other “vomit” to which analysts “returneth” are the attempts to explain why today’s extreme valuations are “different” from the extreme overvaluations at previous pre-crash market tops. I find the “interest rates are record lows now” to be the most amusing.

On Friday, the momentum-chasing hedge funds and retail daytraders couldn’t get enough of the FAANGs (FB, AMZN, AAPL, NFLX, GOOG) + MSFT. AMZN’s stock ran up $128, or 13.2%, which was still less than AMZN’s biggest one-day percentage jump of 26.8% on October 23, 2009.  AMZN’s stock price has been highly correlated with  amount of money printed by the “G3” (U.S./Japan /EU) Central Bank money printing machine.  But since July, AMZN’s stock began to diverge negatively from the growth path of G3 money supply. The FANGs in general had been losing steam starting in June. AMZN was particularly weak after it reported that big loss in July. It took one absurd headline “beat” for AMZN to “catch back up” into correlation with the growth line of G3 money printing (FYI, the Fed’s balance increase slightly in October, despite the announcement that it would be reduced by at least $10 billion in October).

The stock market will head south quickly sooner or later. The “curtain” is being “pulled back”on stock Ponzi schemes one by one. The truths about Tesla (TSLA) are beginning to emerge in public finally. Eventually the stock market will take a hard look behind the Amazon (AMZN) curtain. Ponzi schemes can flourish during periods of bubble inflation. But when bubbles deflate, Ponzi schemes fail. It’s no coincidence that Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme fell apart in late 2008 (he admitted guilt in December 2008). It began to become unmanageable during 2007, when the stock market started to head south. Eventually it will become impossible to cover up fundamental facts from the investing public. Fundamental facts about the economy, corporate earnings and the financial system. That’s when the rush toward the exits will commence.

The above commentary/analysis is from the latest issue of the Short Seller’s Journal. In that issue I review AMZN’s Q3 financials in-depth. This includes excerpts from the SEC-filed 10-Q used to demonstrate why Jeff Bezos’ LTM “Free Cash Flow” of $8.05 billion is a Ponzi number and the true GAAP Free Cash Flow is -$3.9 billion. AMZN is a cash-burning furnace and I prove it. To find out more about this and other ideas for shorting this bloated stock market, click here: Short Seller’s Journal information.

Netflix And Amazon: Case Studies In Accounting Games

Over the time since I started the Short Seller’s Journal, several subscribers have asked about Netflix (NFLX). For some reason I have refrained from presenting it as a short idea, instead choosing AMZN and TSLA as my insanely overvalued “tech poison” short-sell ideas. However, knowing that NFLX was reporting this week, I decided what if – and really more like when – it spiked up on a headline “beat,” I would take a close look at the numbers to see what’s going on with NFLX accounting. Sifting through NFLX’s web of accounting chicanery took a lot longer than I anticipated…

As I expected, I found a company that pushes the envelope in an area of GAAP accounting in which there is substantial “grey” area that enables companies like NFLX to manufacture and manage reported GAAP net income. But NFLX bleeds cash, as I’ll show. The quote at the top summarizes the NFLX business model: it will burn cash “for many years.”

In a sense, NFLX is similar to a Ponzi scheme. As long as cash received in the form of revenues and stock or bond financing exceeds cash expense outflows each year, it can continue operating. But as soon as revenues decline or the capital markets refuse to give NFLX money, it will collapse. As you will see below, while NFLX is generating growth in its net income, the amount of cash burned by its operations has been increasing dramatically. And it has been financing this cash flow deficit with debt.

The above narrative is from last week’s Short Seller’s Journal. I walked through the areas in which NFLX exploits grey areas in GAAP accounting rules to manipulate the cash flows from its business model (cash revenues minus actual cash expenses) in order present GAAP net income. The primary lever it uses is the guidelines (note: “guidelines” – not “rules”) for depreciating media capex. I show step-by-step how NFLX exploited the grey areas in GAAP to manufacture the $0.15 earnings per share it reported.

I also discussed strategies for shorting NFLX, which included shorting the stock outright and using puts. Subscribers who shorted NFLX on Monday morning this past week are green on their short positions. I also suggested capital management strategies.

This week I will be showing how to dissect the numbers AMZN must disclose in the footnotes to its 10-Q filing to see what’s really going on beneath the Jeff Bezos show. For instance Bezos opens his earnings presentation every quarter with a slide and a discussion of the “Free Cash Flow” produced my AMZN on an LTM basis. It’s the very first slide in the earnings call slide show. He’s now claiming LTM FCF of $9.7 billion.

BUT in the footnotes to the 10-Q – a place where no Wall Street analyst ever dares to venture, assuming they even know the footnotes exist – there’s a disclosure that explains that Jeff Bezos FCF is not GAAP FCF. Using GAAP, the Bezos FCF is reduced to $4.1 billion. I’m using ETIDA minus Capex minus Capital Lease Amortization payments. I even give him the benefit of adding back the non-cash share compensation portion of salary, which technically is not allowed in GAAP because share dilution is a form of cash use ultimately from the shareholders perspective. The $4.1 billion is GAAP free cash flow, not the Bezos bullshit FCF.

And not only that, but the AMZN core business model is starting to break down. But that analysis will be saved for this week’s Short Seller’s Journal.   Subscribers to the SSJ also get 50% off a subscription to the Mining Stock Journal.   Click here to learn more about the SSJ:   Short Seller’s Journal info.

Dave, just a moment for some feed back. I just placed and order for 1 oz gold eagles thanks to my profits off Tesla and BBBY. Thanks, as always. – Subscriber email received in early July

Amazon Prime Day! What Does This Mean?

Amazon stock is up $6 in pre-market trading because it’s…”Prime Day!”  But what does this really mean?  It means AMZN will burn more cash selling and fulfilling commodity products with free 2-day shipping. But it will likely get another $20 pop in its stock because “Prime Day” revenues today will grow X% over 2016’s “Prime Day.”

Am I the only person in the world who has figured out that AMZN’s e-commerce operating income margin is nearly zero?  Does anyone besides me know that AMZN’s non-North American e-commerce business loses money on an operating basis?  The numbers are posted in its 10-Q every quarter.   North America and ROW combined last quarter AMZN’s e-commerce business did a whopping 0.3% operating margin.  At least that’s 0.3 higher than Blutarsky’s grade point average in “Animal House.”  Short Seller’s Journal subscribers know this because I show them the numbers –  Wall Street’s institutional investor clients do not know this because these market “professionals” can’t be bothered with doing actual research).

AMZN has already been crowned as the new “grocery killer” by the Jim Cramers of the world.  It’s amazing that he can make this assertion without having ever looked at AMZN’s real numbers.  In fitting irony, the opposite of Cramer’s assertion is the truth based on real world numbers.  Walmart, Target, Bed Bath etc have 3-5% operating margins that they can “play” with to attack AMZN’s e-commerce model.

Is AMZN “killing” brick-n-mortar or are the healthy brick-n-mortars going after AMZN’s e-commerce business?

Go onto Walmart’s website.  It’s now offering 2-day free shipping on millions of SKU’s without any requirement to pay money up front to join a “club.”  I was wondering by Bezos decided to offer low-income people a big discount on Prime memberships.  He knew Walmart was going to offer 2-day free shipping to that retail demographic without a “club membership” requirement.  Guess what Jeff?  WMT can afford to ship for free.  Your company cannot.  It doesn’t cost much extra for WMT to offer 2-day shipping because it can fulfill most orders from store inventory in the same county or city or neighborhood from which the order was placed.  AMZN can not do that.

Walmart is more than 3x the size of AMZN and it is many times more profitable.  BBBY’s e-commerce business last quarter grew 20% year over year.   I got news for  Cramer and all the robotic Wall St. analysts, and the lemmings who slavishly worship both:   Walmart, Best Buy,  BBBY and TGT have room to subsidize sales even more and still operate profitably.  AMZN does not.  If you don’t believe me then look at the SEC-filed number yourself.

Stay tuned…there’s more…two major category-killer discount grocery chains from Europe are expanding aggressively in the United States and Microsoft is cutting back on certain of its operations to focus on its cloud enterprise business.  AMZN’s AWS business will be attacked aggressively by MSFT, ORCL, GOOG and IBM.  The price of cloud computing will eventually approach zero.  Did anyone out there realize that AMZN’s cloud margins decline every quarter?

Happy Amazon Prime Day!  AMZN will lose money on just about every item sold today.  I guess that’s a great reason to celebrate…

The Biggest Stock Bubble In U.S. History

Please note, many will argue that the p/e ratio on the S&P 500 was higher in 1999 than it is now. However, there’s two problems with the comparison. First, when there is no “e,” price does not matter. Many of the tech stocks in the SPX in 1999 did not have any earnings and never had a chance to produce earnings because many of them went out of business. However – and I’ve been saying this for quite some time and I’m finally seeing a few others make the same assertion – if you adjust the current earnings of the companies in SPX using the GAAP accounting standards in force in 1999, the current earnings in aggregate would likely be cut at least in half. And thus, the current p/e ratio expressed in 1999 earnings terms likely would be at least as high as the p/e ratio in 1999, if not higher. (Changes to GAAP have made it easier for companies to create non-cash earnings, reclassify and capitalize expenses, stretch out depreciation and pension funding costs, etc).

We talk about the tech bubble that fomented in the late 1990’s that resulted in an 85% (roughly) decline on the NASDAQ. Currently the five highest valued stocks by market cap are tech stocks: AAPL, GOOG, MSFT, AMZN and FB. Combined, these five stocks make-up nearly 10% of the total value of the entire stock market.

Money from the public poured into ETFs at record pace in February. The majority of it into S&P 500 ETFs which then have to put that money proportionately by market value into each of the S&P 500 stocks.   Thus when cash pours into SPX funds like this, a large rise in the the top five stocks by market cap listed above becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The price rise in these stocks has nothing remotely to do with fundamentals. Take Microsoft, for example (MSFT). Last Friday the pom-poms were waving on Fox Business because MSFT hit an all-time high. This is in spite of the fact that MSFT’s revenues dropped 8.8% from 2015 to 2016 and its gross margin plunged 13.2%. So much for fundamentals.

In addition to the onslaught of retail cash moving blindly into stocks, margin debt on the NYSE hit an all-time high in February. Both the cash flow and margin debt statistics are flashing a big red warning signal, as this only occurs when the public becomes blind to risk and and bet that stocks can only go up. As I’ve said before, this is by far the most dangerous stock market in my professional lifetime (32 years, not including my high years spent reading my father’s Wall Street Journal everyday and playing penny stocks).

Perhaps the loudest bell ringing and signaling a top is the market’s valuation of Tesla.  On Monday the market cap of Tesla ($49 billion) surpassed Ford’s market cap  ($45 billion) despite the fact that Tesla deliver 79 thousand cars in 2016 while Ford delivered 2.6 million.    “Electric Jeff” (as a good friend of mine calls Elon Musk, in reference to Jeff Bezos) was on Twitter Monday taunting short sellers.  At best his behavior can be called “gauche.”   Musk, similar to Bezos, is a masterful stock operator.   Jordan Belfort (the “Wolf of Wall Street”) was a small-time dime store thief compared to Musk and Bezos.

Tesla has never made money and never will make money.  Next to Amazon, it’s the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.  Without the massive tax credits given to the first 200,000 buyers of Tesla vehicles,  the Company would likely be out of business by now.

Once again the public has been seduced into throwing money blindly at anything that moves in the stock market, chasing dreams of risk-free wealth.  99% of them will never take money off the table and will lose everything when this bubble bursts.  And only the biggest stock bubble in history is capable of enabling operators like Musk and Bezos to reap extraordinary wealth at the expense of the public.   The bell is ringing, perhaps Musk unwittingly rang it on Monday with hubris.  The only question that remains pertains to timing…

If you are looking for ideas to take advantage of the inevitable stock market implosion, try out my Short Seller’s Journal.  It’s a weekly subscription newsletter delivered PDF form via email that drills down into the latest economic data and presents short-sell and put option ideas.  You can find out more and subscribe using this link:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

A Preposterous Jobs Report And Preposterous AMZN Earnings

On a trailing twelve month quarterly basis, AMZN’s operating income growth has plunged from 30.2% in Q2 2015 to just 3.6% in Q4 2016.  This is a stunning drop in growth considering that AMZN’s stock is trading at 92x operating income and 134x net income. That’s before accounting manipulations are stripped away.

The fake news abounds.  It’s seeping from cracks in every part of the U.S. system.  It’s one of the hallmarks of a collapsing economic and social system and, even worse, the onslaught of totalitarianism.   Orwell’s vision was stunningly prophetic.  Of course, he was simply reconstituting history and warning us about the lessons which everyone seems to forget.

The latest non-farm payroll report, the data for which is compiled by the Census Bureau and manufactured into fake news by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wants us to believe that the economy produced 227,000 jobs in January.  If you look at the “not seasonally adjusted” employment numbers, the number of people employed dropped by 1.25 million.

This is in an economy in which retail and auto sales plunged in January, which means retailers and domestic OEM’s cut back on employment – two major sources of employment in the economy.

In fact, according to the BLS fake news jobs report, “retail trade” was largest component of job “adds” in January. This is quite interesting given that retailers have been dumping employees en masse plus big box and mall anchor concepts like Macy’s are shuttering stores by the 100’s.  In short, that statistic is simply not credible nor supported by the facts. By the same token, auto manufacturers have been cutting shifts and shuttering production lines, as dealer inventories are ballooning and used car prices are plummeting, with a flood of low-mileage, well-maintained leased cars coming off lease.

The BLS is making the claim that “construction” was the 2nd largest category of job adds in January.  No way.  An apartment building and commercial real estate glut has formed. The default rate on CMBS (commercial mortgage-backed securities) is climbing as loans mature and borrowers are unable to repay or refi them – LINK.  Furthermore, the issuance of CMBS in 2016 was the lowest in the last 4 years.  If commercial r/e loans are not being sourced and therefore projects are slowing down, how can construction employment increase?

Restaurant sales are in freefall – a fact of which I have detailed meticulously in my Short Seller’s Journal – which means the standard plug used to goal-seek a specific employment number,  part-time waitresses and bartenders, is a fraud.  Moreover, with wage growth slowing down and real inflation wreaking havoc on non-discretionary expense items, it would seem highly improbable that “leisure and hospitality” would be the 3rd biggest contributor to the employment rolls.

In short, the Government employment report is once again not even remotely credible. But this should be expected.  First, the Census Bureau’s data collection apparatus not only is called into question constantly, but the CB has been caught submitting fraudulent data collection reports.  Some of the data collectors decide to take extra long lunches or visit the pot dispensaries in States where applicable and then submit fraudulent reports rather than conduct actual data collection.   Then the BLS takes the questionable data and pushes it through a seasonal adjustments and annual benchmark revision meat grinder. The data goes in as rat poison and comes out as nuclear waste.

As for Amazon…Amazon is the archetypal accounting fraud poster child.  Whether or  not you are willing to accept my analysis of their accounting practices, let ‘s look just at some surface indicators that AMZN is running off the rails to nirvana.   I wrote a comprehensive report on AMZN in which I drilled down to the core of AMZN’s highly misleading accounting practices.  The report is dated by a year but the “proof of concept” is still valid – maybe even more valid now than over the past 10 years.  I’ll send a copy to anyone who subscribes to the Short Seller’s Journal (I’ll send a copy to existing subscribers along with Sunday’s weekly issue).  You can subscribe here:  Short Seller’s Journal.

AMZN’s quarterly revenue growth rate has been slowing for several quarters.  Its revenue growth rate peaked in 2011 at 41%.   Since Q3 2015 to Q4 2016, the year over year quarterly growth rate has slowed from 30% to 24%.  This is despite the heady growth rate attributed to its cloud computing division (AWS – which I eviscerate in the AMZN report).   Operating income is worse.  Over the last 6 quarters, its year over year quarterly operating income growth has plunged from 84% to 13%. This excludes F/X effects, the application of which would make it worse.  Net income?  Forget net income.  By the time the numbers flow through AMZN’s waterfall of misleading accounting practices, the net income number is completely useless and highly manufactured.  I detail this fact in the AMZN report.

AMZN’s AWS segement (cloud computing) is highly touted by Wall Street snake-oil salesmen.  Don’t poison your view by looking at AMZN’s highly massaged and highly misleading earning presentation slide-show.  Go directly to the SEC-filed 8K/10Q, which itself is riddled with suspect accounting.

The growth of AWS has slowed considerably and will continue to do so.  Especially if Trump cuts back on Deep State funding, which is significant source of revenues for AMZN’s cloud computing services.  On a year over year quarterly revenue growth basis, AWS’ sales growth has gone from 82% in Q2 2015 to 47% in Q4 2016.  It’s been nearly cut in half.  It’s not a scale phenomenon either, as its Q4 revenues for AWS were $3.5 billion, which was just 8% of total revenues for the quarter.  I can remember when Wall St. stock jockeys were forecasting an explosion in AWS’s contribution to AMZN’s revenues and income.   But AWS sales have been running between 7% to 9.5% of total revenues since Q2 2015.  It was 8% of revenues in the latest quarter.

I will say that AWS produced 73.7% of AMZN’s operating income in Q4.  But that’s more a damnation of AMZN’s retail sales business, if anything.  With $1.255 billion in total operating income, that means AMZN generated just $329 million of operating income on $40.1 billion of retail sales.  That’s a “sweltering” 0.8% operating margin (zero point eight percent).   For comparison purposes, Walmart and Target generate an operating margin of about 5% on similar product sales.  So much for the argument that cyber-sales are more profitable than “brick and mortar.”

There’s a lot more analysis that I can present showing the misleading to fraudulent nature of AMZN’s financials, but that’s for subscribers.  Suffice it to say that the Free Cash Flow number presented by Jeff Bezos every quarter in his ridiculous slide presentation is completely fraudulent except for that fact that he discloses deep in the bowels of the AMZN 10Q – a place where Wall Street analysts never venture – that AMZN’s definition of “free cash flow” is not based on generally accepted accounting principles.

AMAZON.CON – ROFLMAO

If this is the case, the true reality beneath Bezo’s fraudulent accounting had to have been horrific:

Amazon’s quarterly profit misses estimates, shares tumble

From Reuters – LINK:  

Amazon.com Inc reported a lower-than-expected quarterly profit on Thursday as expenses rose and the company provided a disappointing fourth-quarter revenue forecast.

The growth of AMZN’s cloud business is rapidly slowing down.  This has been one of my key arguments about the insanity of the market cap attributed to AMZN’s cloud business. It’s tiny compared to AMZN’s overall revenues.  And competition in the cloud space is going to become ferocious as Microsoft, Google and Oracle begin to really flex their muscles.

The only question left for me is to determine which between AMZN and TSLA is biggest Ponzi scheme in history.  AMZN is maybe a $10 stock and TSLA is likely worth $2.

Amazon Dot CON: The Bezos Con Grows With Revenues

The mainstream financial media headlines reporting Amazon’s Q2 earnings release were shamelessly pathetic:  “Amazon crushes Street forecast,” “Amazon beats again in Q2 thanks to cloud services.”  It was beyond nauseating.  The entire spectacle reminds me of the tech bubble, when companies like Cisco, Sun Microsystems and Intel would intentionally “guide” Street analysts into publishing a low consensus forecast the CFOs knew could easily be topped with accounting gimmicks.

Bezos applies all the traditional accounting gimmicks plus he’s created his own, Bezosspecifically with regard to his definition of “free cash flow.”

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this.  I’ve wasted most of my evening untangling AMZN’s numbers as reported in its 8-K filing.  Let’s just say that if you dissect AMZN into its “product” and “AWS” components, the results are underwhelming.

Nothwithstanding the fact that AMZN intentionally guides the Street to low-ball estimates ahead of its quarterly earnings report, as you can see from the graphic below, which I created by dissecting and rearranging the sales and operating income numbers from AMZN’s 8-K filed today, AMZN’s growth numbers are underwhelming (click to enlarge):

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The sales growth rates for AMZN’s AWS (cloud computing) revenues and operating income are declining rapidly.  AWS is a new business started from scratch a few years ago.  Of course it’s going to show a high rate of growth initially.  But stock analysts and the mainstream financial media make it sound like AWS is a money tree.  Yahoo Finance reports that AWS is “massively profitable” LINK.

Well, look for yourself.  The sales growth on a year over year quarterly basis has dropped precipitously from 81.5% in Q2 2015 to 58.2% in the latest quarter. This is a rapid slowdown in growth.  The yr/yr quarterly growth rate for AWS operating income, which was $718 million in the latest quarter, has plunged from 407% to 83.6%.   “Massively profitable?”  You can see that AWS’ operating income actually declined from Q4 2015 to Q1 2016.  Declined.  Cloud computing services are not seasonal.  So that would not explain the drop.

Furthermore, AMZN does not disclose how much of its “technology and content” expenses are attributed to AWS.  But its total line-item cost for this in Q2 was $3.8 billion.  Yet, AWS’ total revenues for Q2 was $2.9 billion.  To be sure, a significant portion of that $3.8 billion in tech costs go with AMZN’s online product sales.  But it’s possible that none of the expense is amortized into AWS’ cost of sales.  Bezos won’t break that out.    He was doing a similar trick with “fulfillment” before the SEC forced AMZN to include fulfillment as a separate line item in the early 2000’s.

Let’s drill down into AWS’s numbers, to the extent that Bezos’ disclosures will allow:

AMZN AWS

The chart above shows the quarter to quarter growth rates for AWS.  Again, recall that cloud computing services are not seasonal.   From 2014 to 2015, AWS’ annual growth rate was 70%.  But on an LTM basis thru Q2 2016, that growth rate has collapsed to 26%.  With operating income the decline is even more dramatic.  From 2014 to 2015, operating income grew 182%.  But this growth rate on a quarter to quarter basis for Q2 2016 has plunged  to 19%.

Bezos is the master of deceptive presentation.  But as you can see, rearranging the numbers into a more traditional financial analysis format removes any “sizzle” Bezos imposes on the numbers and reveals that AWS’s growth rate is collapsing.

Circling back to the first chart, you can see that AMZN’s overall profit margin on 90% of its revenues base – its product sales – is more or less 2%.   This profit margin is less than half the profit margin of two of AMZN’s primary competitors, Walmart and Target.  In general, retailers produce 4-5% operating profit margins.  In other words, 90% of AMZN’s revenues significantly underperform that of AMZN’s competitors.

For this investors are paying a 186x trailing p/e for a business with a rapidly declining growth rate and profit margins well below average for retailers.

Finally, the Bezos’ shamelessly promoted Free Cash Flow metric  turns out to be borderline fraudulent.   In fact, buried deep inside the footnotes to AMZN’s SEC-filed 10-K/Q is a disclosure that states that the “free cash flow” number used in AMZN’s promotional slide is not a GAAP-derived number.

Why?  Because Bezos conveniently excludes the cash AMZN’s spends every quarter to pay for property and capital equipment that AMZN finances with capital leases.  He also excludes stock-based compensation, which turns out to account for about 50% of AMZN’s salary expense.   It’s highly misleading.   To give you an example, the very first slide which is shown in AMZN’s quarterly investor presentation is the  Bezos-concocted “Free Cash Flow” bar chart shown on a trailing twelve month basis:

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This is the very first slide Bezos hits the market with. Talk about shameless promotion, I’ve never seen anything like this in over 30 years of financial market experience. This is more absurd than any type of misleading hype that I saw in the junk bond market.   And I thought junk bond presentations stretched the limits of credibility.

But here’s the best part.  If you strip out the ongoing cash outflows used for capital equipment and building expenditures by AMZN each quarter for the last four quarters, that “free cash flow” of $7.3 billion LTM shrivels down to $2.5 billion.   THEN, if you net out stock-based compensation for the trailing twelve months, which is a GAAP number, that Free Cash Flow metric of Bezos’ disintegrates down to just $85 million.

Pundits will argue that capital lease payments are eventually non-recurring and therefore should not be included in a free cash flow calculation.  But that argument is entirely disingenuous and highly flawed because these payments have grown from $1.8 billion in 2013 to $5.4 billion on an LTM basis through Q2 2016.   I like to call these, sarcastically, recurring “non-recurring” expenses because it falls into the “non-GAAP” earnings category that every big corporation gets away with presenting now.  Bezos clearly stretches this to the limits of the imagination.

Now, Bezos’ promoters would argue that stock-based compensation is not a use of cash and therefore should not be included in the Free Cash Flow number.  But that is patently false.  Here’s why.  The definition of free cash flow is that amount of cash flow that is available to shareholders after all cash payments are accounted for.  With stock-based compensation, AMZN hides this cash-cost to shareholders because this economic cost to shareholders does not show up until the employee registers its shares and sells them.  This increases the shares outstanding – or dilutes shareholders.

Employee stock compensation shares are registered and sold every quarter.  The amount per quarter is increasing at an increasing rate because the nominal amount of shares given as part of AMZN’s payroll increases every quarter.  Thus, the amount of shares outstanding at the end of every quarter increases.  This effectively reduces the amount of free cash flow per share that would otherwise be available to shareholders. Therefore the cost of employee stock compensation should be treated as cash cost each quarter and should be netted out from “free cash flow” just like it would be if the employee compensation were paid in cash instead of shares.  

There are several other areas in which Bezos uses creative accounting in order to bamboozle the market.   Unfortunately Wall Street, Capitol Hill and the SEC look the other way.  Wall Street because AMZN is a perpetual source of revenues.  Washingon, DC because Bezos spends millions buying Congressman and because has the use of the Washinton Post as political weapon.

There’s no way to know when the AMZN Ponzi scheme will collapse.  They all do eventually.  But I can say with certainty that, perhaps other than Tesla’s Elon Musk, Bezos is the greatest Ponzi scheme operator in history.