Amazon.com shares hit $1,000 in early Tuesday trading — a numeric milestone that signals how Wall Street has embraced the story of an e-commerce giant that, not so long ago, was considered hard to fathom.
The ascension to four figures caps a somewhat jittery but ultimately triumphant two decade run-up that started when the company went public 20 years ago.
When accounting for past splits, it marks a staggering 66,567 percent rise in the value of an Amazon share since the 1997 initial public offering — and a 40 percent surge from last year.
Amazon’s stock price surged past $1,000 in the first-half hour of trading Tuesday. It slipped quickly from that milestone, and though it bounced back near $1,000 at midday, the stock closed the session at $996.70, up about 0.1 percent.
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To be sure, there’s nothing intrinsically magical about a $1,000 share price, even though it’s rare (according to The Associated Press, only four other U.S.-listed companies trade above that mark: Priceline, NVR, Seaboard and Berkshire Hathaway.) It’s due, in part, to Amazon’s reluctance to split its stock in recent years. But the number has other connotations.
“Technically, it’s just four digits instead of three,” says Colin Sebastian, an analyst with R.W. Baird. “Symbolically, $1,000 is a demonstration of what Amazon has achieved over the last decade.”
That’s especially true for a company that some industry watchers doubted would make it into the mid-2000s. As recently as 2014, Amazon shares were in a relative lull, held back by widespread doubts about the company’s ability to turn a buck as it focused on growing sales.
“And here we are, as perhaps one of the most dominant retail and tech companies on the planet,” Sebastian said.
Shift in sentiment
Many investors had been frustrated at times by Amazon’s tendency to reinvest its cash into more employees, more warehouses and more experimental businesses. The unpredictability of the company’s quarterly earnings reports (a result, in part, of the vague guidance it gave beforehand) also yielded significant volatility to the stock price.
A big shift in investors’ perception of Amazon took place in April 2015, when the company for the first time broke out the financial results of its cloud computing business.
Those showed that Amazon Web Services, as the unit is called, had brought home an unexpectedly large $4.6 billion in revenue the previous year, at a profit rate that was much higher than the retail side.
Another big shift took place a year ago, when analysts with Bernstein put a $1,000 price target on Amazon shares, which at the time were trading around $680. That was far higher than the street consensus of what Amazon was worth, but the analysts argued that Amazon’s various businesses were so large that it would be hard for the company to keep throwing most of its profits back into investments. Even a $1,000 stock price wouldn’t account in the long term for the value being generated by the giant Seattle company, the analysts concluded.
“Amazon does not trade anywhere near what we think it is worth on a fundamental basis. This has been the case for a long time, is still the case today, and would still be the case in a year if the stock were to reach our target,” the Bernstein analysts wrote.
Tuna Amobi, an analyst with CFRA, says that Wall Street’s love affair with Amazon was ignited by “a confluence of good execution and good timing,” referring to the decline of the brick-and-mortar retail world, which has been more evident than ever in the past year.
Other catalysts, such as the rapid growth of the Prime membership program that now has enrolled tens of millions of households, and Amazon’s bets on India and other countries, have added to the giant’s reputation of invincibility in an unstable retail world that it helped to create.
“Now investors are wrapping up their heads around the fact that this is a company that is very well positioned from a structural perspective,” Amobi, who has a $1,050 price target on Amazon, said.
It’s unclear why Amazon hasn’t split its stock since the late 1990s. Companies have done that in the past when their share price gets too high as a way to attract smaller, retail investors instead of just large institutions.
Even though the practice is not as common as it once was, Apple, another highly valued technology company, split its shares in 2014.
Last week, at Amazon’s annual shareholders meeting in Seattle, a shareholder asked why the company hadn’t split the value of its stock. It made it harder for the “middle class” and college students to cash in on Amazon’s prowess, the shareholder argued.
CEO Jeff Bezos said that financial moves like that were something that the company evaluated from time to time, but that there were no plans in the works.
As of May 4, Bezos owned some 79.9 million Amazon shares, worth about $79.6 billion at Tuesday’s closing price, according to securities filings.