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Education Series: Single-Stock ETPs

Facebook Vs Amazon: The Long and Short of It

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Both Amazon and Facebook reported quarterly earnings late last month. Whilst many might favour Amazon over the company formerly known as Facebook, there are strong counter-reasons to the argument.

FACEBOOK – a Meta bet?

Facebook reported better-then-expected profits while missing revenue targets and added a similar figure to its expectations on what Q4 would look like. It also continued its stock buyback efforts by adding $50 billion to the fund, which helped lift its shares by about 2% in extended trading. The company added a new segment called Facebook Reality Labs, which will work on Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) products and services. The other segment will focus on its apps: Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, et al. It expects the Reality Labs segment to impact operating profits for 2021 by $10 billion. Its ad business, meanwhile, remained healthy and growing.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the earnings call with a very combative and vehement defense of his company, following an onslaught of news reports built on leaked documents provided by whistleblower and former employee Frances Haugen which purportedly showed the company taking no action, despite the harm done by social media on children, particularly teenage girls. He dismissed these actions and the resulting outrage as “a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company.”

In the final days of the week of the earnings release, Facebook officially ceased to exist. More precisely, the company renamed itself “Meta” to highlight its work in building the metaverse, i.e. immersive digital worlds in which multiple people can interact within a 3D environment, as part of its evolution into the next generation of social media connectivity. Many a joke and jibe were and continue to be heard from all over the world.

Despite the headwinds it faces, there are a number of encouraging signs for Facebook/Meta:

  1. While VR/AR development will cost the company money and thus depress the stock, it also has a massive addressable customer base. This could be the moment to buy cheap.
  2. The healthiness of the ad business coupled with the growth in profits (despite shrinking profits) indicates that the company has grown more efficient.
  3. A share buyback in the future might create a price boost and the investor can get a little extra for their holdings.

Amazon: Not In Its Prime

High contributions to the company’s bottom line made by its AWS (its cloud computing division) over the past several years meant Amazon has always had significant dry powder to maintain its humongous lead in e-commerce via promotions, delivery time ramp-ups, promotional campaigns, subsidising exclusive brand offerings, etc.

Shortly before its Q3 update, Credit Suisse cut AMZN’s target price by more than 10%. A quick analysis of the company’s segment information over the YTD vis-à-vis the consolidated annual reports reveals a fascinating trend in its financials, particularly its Expense Ratio (i.e. net expenses versus net sales):

  • For “North America” and “International” segments, the Expense Ratio hovers in the 95-102 range while for AWS, it hovers around 68-72 in both a 3-month horizon in Q1 across 2020 and 2021 as well as in a 6-month horizon as of Q2.
  • The latest annual report (2020) indicates that each segment’s ratio has been within the aforementioned range for the past 3 years, i.e. from 2018 till 2020.
  • The U.S.’ contribution to consolidated Net Sales has been 68-69% for the past 3 years.
  • The company had $32 billion in debt as of 2020.

In this particular quarter, there were some indications that the company’s priorities were out of order – despite being in inflationary times, which Treasury principals say will last (at least) till mid-2022: an additional hiring of 125,000 workers at enhanced wages was announced before the update, along with another 150,000 seasonal workers in Q4. Intensifying competition by Microsoft, Google and Oracle against its stalwart AWS business seemed to receive neither specific attention nor remedy during the update.

The Q3 update held no surprises with respect to the aforementioned trend in financials:

  • The Expense Ratios have tightened into the 99-103 range in the 3-month range and into the 96-99 range in the Year to Date (YTD). The “North America” segment is to the left of this range and the “International” segment.
  • AWS, predictably, remained an investment manager’s dream with its ratio remaining in the 69-70 range in both 3-month and YTD horizons.

Despite owning a studio subsidiary set up (Amazon Studios), a free streaming service (IMDb TV) and allegedly signing 10-figure deals to make theatrical movies, the company continues to subsidise these activities within its existing business setup, thus confounding the already-fraught margins of the e-commerce division and writing up multibillion-dollar loans on the backs of the AWS division.

The company, also predictably, made no reference to the fact that India’s antitrust body has found damning evidence that Amazon copied products and rigged search results to promote its own brands in the country. The “India story” was supposed to be the company’s growth driver, just like China was supposed to be before the company had to close shop after 15 years of trying.

Given, there could be several arguments for shorting Amazon but the most prominent ones would be:

  1. Inflationary concerns will likely impact e-commerce shopping. This will depress the stock price in the future.
  2. The competition is heating up in e-commerce and Shopify has been making steady gains with better ratios. Shorting Amazon to buy twice the exposure in Shopify is likely not a bad idea.
  3. The company needs to sort out its bottom lines and revenues better. Under its current muddled state, profits don’t translate to revenues efficiently.

Your capital is at risk if you invest. You could lose all your investment. Please see the full risk warning here.

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Sandeep Rao

Research

Sandeep joined Leverage Shares in September 2020. He leads research on existing and new product lines, asset classes, and strategies, with special emphasis on analysis of recent events and developments.

Sandeep has longstanding experience with financial markets. Starting with a Chicago-based hedge fund as a financial engineer, his career has spanned a variety of domains and organizations over a course of 8 years – from Barclays Capital’s Prime Services Division to (most recently) Nasdaq’s Index Research Team.

Sandeep holds an M.S. in Finance as well as an MBA from Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago.

Violeta Todorova

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Violeta joined Leverage Shares in September 2022. She is responsible for conducting technical analysis, macro and equity research, providing valuable insights to help shape investment strategies for clients.

Prior to joining LS, Violeta worked at several high-profile investment firms in Australia, such as Tollhurst and Morgans Financial where she spent the past 12 years of her career.

Violeta is a certified market technician from the Australian Technical Analysts Association and holds a Post Graduate Diploma of Applied Finance and Investment from Kaplan Professional (FINSIA), Australia, where she was a lecturer for a number of years.

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Julian joined Leverage Shares in 2018 as part of the company’s premier expansion in Eastern Europe. He is responsible for web content and raising brand awareness.

Julian has been academically involved with economics, psychology, sociology, European politics & linguistics. He has experience in business development and marketing through business ventures of his own.

For Julian, Leverage Shares is an innovator in the field of finance & fintech, and he always looks forward with excitement to share the next big news with investors in the UK & Europe.

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Oktay joined Leverage Shares in late 2019. He is responsible for driving business growth by maintaining key relationships and developing sales activity across English-speaking markets.

He joined LS from UniCredit, where he was a corporate relationship manager for multinationals. His previous experience is in corporate finance and fund administration at firms like IBM Bulgaria and DeGiro / FundShare.

Oktay holds a BA in Finance & Accounting and a post-graduate certificate in Entrepreneurship from Babson College. He is also a CFA charterholder.

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