The votes are in, and a long-term approach to business growth has trounced short-termism!
Really. Wall Street Journal readers cast their ballots Wednesday morning after reading this analysis of Amazon's decision to lower short-term profitability by making investments in warehouses, technology and tablets that the online retailer expects will improve long-term profitability.
The Journal nested a survey in the article asking readers to vote on whether Amazon's strategy is A) a risky gamble that may not pay off; or B) a smart plan with big upside. When I last checked the results, "smart plan with big upside" had received more than 82 percent of the votes.
There's a rub, of course. Amazon described this approach while sharing its quarterly results after close of business Tuesday. Shareholders -- at least those for whom short-term profitability reins (i.e., large, institutional shareholders) -- responded by immediately selling Amazon during after-hours trading, decreasing the value of the shares by more than 8 percent.
An analyst with ITG Investment research is quoted in the Journal article explaining that Amazon's financial results disappointed, in part, because analysts' expectations were high. The analyst, according to the article's co-writers, also noted that Amazon's spending "reflects a company making a lot of investments in their business."
Well, "duh." And, after a pause, "Wow!"
Yes, spending does reflect a company making investments (thank you for pointing that out). The subtext of this point is troubling, though: Long-term investments are bad. Short-term profitability is good. (Hey, this argument sounds as nuanced as a U.S. presidential debate.)
Call me crazy, but given Amazon's track record in making long-term investments that result in future profitability. might the fact that they're investing in their business today give an investor a dose of optimism? Uh, didn't Amazon rewrite the rules of traditional retail, turn longstanding retail giants into showrooms (or big box graveyards), and demonstrate a savvy touch (streaming film and television programs; roping in loyal customers via annual membership fees under the guise of free shipping, etc.) in the incredibly lucrative contest to become content king?
Nah, their profit's down this quarter, so I think I'll dump my shares and buy whatever's hot instead.
(Full Disclosure: I don't own any individual AMZN shares. Some of the mutual funds on my Ponzi/retirement account no doubt include AMZN holdings.)
Now I'm the one with the un-nuanced argument.
Short-term is not unequivocally bad, just as all business investments that lower current profitability are not good. What is most important, interesting and, perhaps, hopeful about this storyline is the disconnect between the way readers voted in favor of Amazon's long-term investments in the morning and the way the institutions that dumped Amazon's shares hours earlier voted against Amazon's approach.
In the past decade, Amazon has displayed ample risk intelligence. If the rest of us are to improve our own (personal and organizational) risk intelligence, we will have to reconcile the difference between how we vote with our brains vs. how we vote with our pocketbooks.