main cases in finance

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Finance
ATTACHED FILE(S)

This case was prepared by Senior Lecturer Christopher Noe and Professor Joseph Weber. Research assistance was provided
by Julia Cho.
Copyright © 2019, Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license visit
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San
Francisco, California 94105, USA.
17-183
Revised February 19, 2019
Amazon.com, Inc.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
On May 15, 2017, Amazon.com celebrated the 20th anniversary of its initial public offering (IPO).1
Over the preceding two decades, Amazon had grown from a small e-commerce startup to the fourth
largest U.S. public company, trailing only Apple, Alphabet (Google’s parent), and Microsoft.2 The
company reached such a size, however, with little to show in terms of profitability. Amazon chose to
invest in expansion and research and development with the idea that sacrificing profit in the short-term
would allow the company to maximize profit in the long-term.
Company Background
Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos. Prior to starting Amazon, Bezos worked in New York as a vice
president at D. E. Shaw & Co., a global investment management firm, but decided to quit his job and
move to Seattle to take advantage of the incredible growth of the Internet. The Amazon website
launched on July 16, 1995.

Amazon began as an online bookstore, but the company had innovative strategies that set it apart from
competitors. It offered discounts up to 30%, allowed customers to post their own book reviews on its
website, and continually worked to improve the ease of placing orders with technological features like
“1-Click” shopping.3 These strategies derived from Amazon’s customer-focused mission statement:

1 Dawn Kawamoto, “Amazon.com IPO Skyrockets,” CNET, May 15, 1997, https://www.cnet.com/news/amazon-com-ipo-skyrockets/
(accessed August 2017).
2 Center for Research in Security Prices.
3 Richard L. Brandt, “Birth of a Salesman,” The Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2011.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 2
“Our vision is to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can
come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”4

On May 15, 1997, Amazon’s IPO, priced at $18 a share, raised $54 million.5 By day’s end, the
company’s stock closed up 30% at $23.50, giving it a market capitalization of $438 million.6 The stock
price (split-adjusted) increased by 7,000% over the next few years but lost 95% from its peak value
during the 2000-01 dot-com crash.7 Throughout this tumultuous period, Amazon steadily branched out
beyond books by adding other product categories to its website, including CDs, DVDs, consumer
electronics, video games, software, and office products.8

Amazon’s expansion was also aided by acquisitions. For example, the 2008 purchase of Audible, the
audiobook seller, helped the company broaden its digital media offerings; the 2009 acquisition of
Zappos.com helped the company increase its share in the market for shoes, clothing, and accessories;
and the 2010 purchase of Quidsi, owner of diapers.com and soap.com, moved the company further into
the market for consumer goods.9

In 2005, Amazon introduced its Prime membership program as a means to increase customer loyalty.10
The program started out as a free two-day shipping service for an annual fee but later expanded to
include free access to streaming movies, TV shows, music, and audiobooks; free unlimited photo
storage; free ebook rentals; and early access to special shopping deals.11 In July 2015, Amazon
introduced an online shopping holiday called Prime Day, where the company offered discounts only to
Prime members.12 Amazon reported that the third annual Prime Day in 2017 was the biggest day in its
history with sales surpassing 2016 Black Friday and Cyber Monday.13 Moreover, the number of new
members joining on 2017 Prime Day pushed Prime membership to nearly 50% of all U.S. households.14
Prime’s growing popularity reflected the broader trend of consumers increasingly embracing online

4 Patrick Hull, “Be Visionary. Think Big.,” Forbes, December 19, 2012.
5 Dawn Kawamoto, “Amazon.com IPO Skyrockets,” CNET, May 15, 1997, https://www.cnet.com/news/amazon-com-ipo-skyrockets/
(accessed August 2017).
6 Ibid.
7 Center for Research in Security Prices.
8 Amazon.com History & Timeline, http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-corporatetimeline (accessed August 2017).
9 Justina Vasquez and Imani Moise, “A Run-Down of Large Deals in Amazon’s History,” The Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2017.
10 Amazon.com History & Timeline, http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-corporatetimeline (accessed August 2017).
11 Description of Prime program benefits on amazon.com (accessed August 2017).
12 Lauren Thomas, “Amazon Prime Day Breaks Record; Sales Grew by More Than 60 Percent,” CNBC.com, July 12, 2017
https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/12/amazon-prime-day-breaks-record-event-grew-by-more-than-60-percent.html (accessed August 2017).
13 “Prime Day 2017 Doesn’t Disappoint; AMZN’s Biggest Day Ever,” Cowen and Company, July 12, 2017.
14 Ibid.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 3
shopping, a trend that was predicted to continue. Worldwide total ecommerce retail sales were expected
to double from $1.8 trillion in 2016 to $4.5 trillion in 2021.15

Building off its beginnings as a purveyor of books, Amazon introduced the Kindle e-reader in 2007.16
It was the first device developed by the company, and it fundamentally changed the way people read
books, newspapers, and magazines. Amazon followed the Kindle with other in-house developed
devices — for example, Fire tablets, Fire TV streaming media players, and Echo smart speakers with
the voice assistant Alexa.

In 2006, Amazon decided to rent out excess space on its computer network to other companies.17 That
decision essentially represented the genesis of the cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) industry. As
of 2016, worldwide total IaaS industry sales had grown to $25 billion and were expected to grow to
$63 billion over the next five years.18 Amazon’s a la carte services, known as Amazon Web Services
(AWS), initially appealed to Internet startups attracted by flexibility and cost savings. Over time,
however, more established companies such as Juniper Networks, Intuit, and Netflix, decided to unplug
their private data servers and run their businesses entirely on Amazon’s IT backbone.19

Not all of Amazon’s actions have proven successful. In 2014, for example, the company introduced the
Fire Phone, but the device was a major flop and was discontinued the following year.20 Other examples
of Amazon failures include Amazon Destinations, a hotel booking site; WebPay, a peer-to-peer
payment service; Amazon Auctions, an auction website; and a line of premium diapers.21 None of these
botched efforts fazed Bezos, however, who engrained a tolerance for failure into Amazon’s culture
because of his belief that failed experiments are a necessary evil to create successful inventions.22
Financial Performance
Exhibit 1 shows Amazon’s stock price during its first 20 years, a period over which the company’s
shareholders earned a nearly 64,000% return. Amazon reached the 20th anniversary of its IPO with a
market capitalization of $458 billion.23 This exhibit also shows Amazon’s net income and cash flow
from operations between 1997 and 2016. Cumulative net income over this period totaled only $4.9

15 https://www.emarketer.com/Report/Worldwide-Retail-Ecommerce-Sales-eMarketers-Estimates-20162021/2002090 (accessed August
2018).
16 Amazon.com History & Timeline, http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-corporatetimeline (accessed August 2017).
17 Robert McMillan, “Amazon to Offer Window into Web Services Business,” The Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2015.
18 Gartner.
19 Julie Bort, “Netflix, Juniper, and Intuit Explain How Amazon Is Eating the $3.5 Trillion IT Industry,” Business Insider, January 13, 2016.
20 Kia Kokalitcheva, “Amazon Is Killing Off the Fire Phone,” Fortune, September 9, 2015.
21 Eugene Kim, “Jeff Bezos Says Amazon Is Not Afraid to Fail – These 9 Failures Show He’s Not Kidding,” Business Insider, October 21,
2015.
22 Eugene Kim, “How Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Has Inspired People to Change the Way They Think about Failure,” Business Insider, May
28, 2016.
23 Center for Research in Security Prices.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 4
billion with 60% coming from just 2015-16. Exhibit 2 provides Amazon’s 2014-16 financial
statements. Exhibit 3 provides descriptions of expense line items on the income statement. Exhibit 4
provides 2014-16 segment information for Amazon’s retail and AWS businesses.
Focus on Long-Term Cash Flow Growth
Amazon’s two decades of meager profitability originated from a strategic choice made in the
company’s early days to focus on the long-term. In 1997, Bezos articulated Amazon’s philosophy in
his first letter to shareholders:24

We believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create
over the long-term. This value will be a direct result of our ability to extend and solidify our
current market leadership position. The stronger our market leadership, the more powerful our
economic model. Market leadership can translate directly to higher revenue, higher
profitability, greater capital velocity, and correspondingly stronger returns on invested
capital…We will continue to make investment decisions in light of long-term market leadership
considerations rather than short-term profitability considerations or short-term Wall Street
reactions.25

And, 20 years later, Amazon continued to emphasize a long-term focus:

Our financial focus is on long-term, sustainable growth in free cash flows. Free cash flows are
driven primarily by increasing operating income and efficiently managing working capital and
cash capital expenditures, including our decision to purchase or lease property and equipment.
Increases in operating income primarily result from increases in sales of products and services
and efficiently managing our operating costs, partially offset by investments we make in
longer-term strategic initiatives. To increase sales of products and services, we focus on
improving all aspects of the customer experience, including lowering prices, improving
availability, offering faster delivery and performance times, increasing selection, increasing
product categories and service offerings, expanding product information, improving ease of
use, improving reliability, and earning customer trust.26

Exhibit 5 provides Amazon’s voluntary disclosure of non-GAAP financial information about free cash
flows.

Despite Amazon consistently downplaying the significance of short-term accounting profitability, some
market observers were of the opinion that the company’s GAAP earnings were poised for considerable
growth as the 20th anniversary of its IPO neared. For example, Barron’s commented, “Ironically, now

24 Jeff Bezos has attached his first letter to shareholders to each of his subsequent letters as of the writing of this case study.
25 Jeff Bezos, Letter to Amazon.com Shareholders, 1997.
26 2016 Amazon.com Form 10-K.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 5
that Amazon has convinced the investing public of the unimportance of profits, its earnings are on the
verge of soaring. Within five years, they could total $20 billion a year, a level only six U.S. companies
are expected to reach this year. True enough, those forecasts have a way of coming down over time,
but unless Amazon’s next venture is launching a small nation-state, it will have a hard time investing
away such a sum, not to mention its free cash flow, which is much higher.”27

27 Jack Hough, “Amazon’s Next Move Amazon in Its Prime,” Barron’s, May 8, 2017.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 6
Exhibit 1 Amazon.com, Inc. 1997-2016 Stock Price, Cash Flow from Operations, and Net
Income

Source: YCharts.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 7
Exhibit 2 Amazon.com, Inc. 2014-16 Cash Flow Statements ($ Millions)
Year Ended December 31,
201620152014
CASH AND CASH EQUIVALENTS, BEGINNING OF PERIOD 15,890

14,557

8,658
OPERATING ACTIVITIES:
Net income (loss) 2,371

596

(241)
Adjustments to reconcile net income (loss) to net cash from
operating activities:

Depreciation of property and equipment, including internal-use
software and website development, and other amortization,
including capitalized content costs
8,116

6,281

4,746
Stock-based compensation 2,975

2,119

1,497
Other operating expense, net 160

155

129
Other expense (income), net (20)

250

59
Deferred income taxes (246)

81

(316)
Excess tax benefits from stock-based compensation (829)

(119)

(6)
Changes in operating assets and liabilities:
Inventories (1,426)

(2,187)

(1,193)
Accounts receivable, net and other (3,367)

(1,755)

(1,039)
Accounts payable 5,030

4,294

1,759
Accrued expenses and other 1,724

913

706
Additions to unearned revenue 11,931

7,401

4,433
Amortization of previously unearned revenue (9,976)

(6,109)

(3,692)
Net cash provided by (used in) operating activities 16,443

11,920

6,842
INVESTING ACTIVITIES:
Purchases of property and equipment, including internal-use
software and website development, net
(6,737)

(4,589)

(4,893)
Acquisitions, net of cash acquired, and other (116)

(795)

(979)
Sales and maturities of marketable securities 4,733

3,025

3,349
Purchases of marketable securities (7,756)

(4,091)

(2,542)
Net cash provided by (used in) investing activities (9,876)

(6,450)

(5,065)
FINANCING ACTIVITIES:
Excess tax benefits from stock-based compensation 829

119

6
Proceeds from issuance of long-term debt 621

353

6,359
Repayments of long-term debt and other (354)

(1,652)

(513)
Principal repayments of capital lease obligations (3,860)

(2,462)

(1,285)
Principal repayments of finance lease obligations (147)

(121)

(135)
Net cash provided by (used in) financing activities (2,911)

(3,763)

4,432
Foreign currency effect on cash and cash equivalents (212)

(374)

(310)
Net increase (decrease) in cash and cash equivalents 3,444

1,333

5,899
CASH AND CASH EQUIVALENTS, END OF PERIOD 19,334

15,890

14,557
Source: Amazon.com, Inc. 10-K, December 31, 2016.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 8
Exhibit 2 (cont.) Amazon.com, Inc. 2014-16 Income Statements ($ Millions)
Year Ended December 31,
201620152014
Net product sales 94,665

79,268

70,080
Net service sales 41,322

27,738

18,908
Total net sales 135,987

107,006

88,988
Operating expenses:
Cost of sales 88,265

71,651

62,752
Fulfillment 17,619

13,410

10,766
Marketing 7,233

5,254

4,332
Technology and content 16,085

12,540

9,275
General and administrative 2,432

1,747

1,552
Other operating expense, net 167

171

133
Total operating expenses 131,801

104,773

88,810
Operating income 4,186

2,233

178
Interest income 100

50

39
Interest expense (484)

(459)

(210)
Other income (expense), net 90

(256)

(118)
Total non-operating income (expense) (294)

(665)

(289)
Income (loss) before income taxes 3,892

1,568

(111)
Provision for income taxes (1,425)

(950)

(167)
Equity-method investment activity, net of tax (96)

(22)

37
Net income (loss) 2,371

596

(241)
Source: Amazon.com, Inc. 10-K, December 31, 2016.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 9
Exhibit 2 (cont.) Amazon.com, Inc. 2014-16 Balance Sheets ($ Millions)
December 31,
201620152014
Current assets:
Cash and cash equivalents 19,334

15,890

14,557
Marketable securities 6,647

3,918

2,859
Inventories 11,461

10,243

8,299
Accounts receivable, net and other 8,339

5,654

5,612
Total current assets 45,781

35,705

31,327
Property and equipment, net 29,114

21,838

16,967
Goodwill 3,784

3,759

3,319
Other assets 4,723

3,445

2,892
Total assets 83,402

64,747

54,505
Current liabilities:
Accounts payable 25,309

20,397

15,459
Accrued expenses and other 13,739

10,372

9,807
Unearned revenue 4,768

3,118

1,823
Total current liabilities 43,816

33,887

28,089
Long-term debt 7,694

8,227

8,265
Other long-term liabilities 12,607

9,249

7,410
Stockholders’ equity:
Common stock 5

5

5
Treasury stock, at cost (1,837)

(1,837)

(1,837)
Additional paid-in capital 17,186

13,394

11,135
Accumulated other comprehensive loss (985)

(723)

(511)
Retained earnings 4,916

2,545

1,949
Total stockholders’ equity 19,285

13,384

10,741
Total liabilities and stockholders’ equity 83,402

64,747

54,505
Source: Amazon.com, Inc. 10-Ks, December 31, 2016 and December 31, 2015.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 10
Exhibit 3 Amazon.com, Inc. Expense Line Item Descriptions
Cost of Sales
Cost of sales primarily consists of the purchase price of consumer products, digital media content costs
where we record revenue gross, including Prime Video and Prime Music, packaging supplies, sortation
and delivery centers and related equipment costs, and inbound and outbound shipping costs, including
where we are the transportation service provider. Shipping costs to receive products from our suppliers
are included in our inventory, and recognized as cost of sales upon sale of products to our customers.
Payment processing and related transaction costs, including those associated with seller transactions,
are classified in “Fulfillment” on our consolidated statements of operations.

Vendor Agreements
We have agreements with our vendors to receive funds for advertising services, cooperative marketing
efforts, promotions, and volume rebates. We generally consider amounts received from vendors to be
a reduction of the prices we pay for their goods, including property and equipment, or services, and
therefore record those amounts as a reduction of the cost of inventory, cost of services, or cost of
property and equipment. Vendor rebates are typically dependent upon reaching minimum purchase
thresholds. We evaluate the likelihood of reaching purchase thresholds using past experience and
current year forecasts. When volume rebates can be reasonably estimated, we record a portion of the
rebate as we make progress towards the purchase threshold. When we receive direct reimbursements
for costs incurred by us in advertising the vendor’s product or service, the amount we receive is
recorded as an offset to “Marketing” on our consolidated statements of operations.

Fulfillment
Fulfillment costs primarily consist of those costs incurred in operating and staffing our North America
and International segments’ fulfillment and customer service centers, including costs attributable to
buying, receiving, inspecting, and warehousing inventories; picking, packaging, and preparing
customer orders for shipment; payment processing and related transaction costs, including costs
associated with our guarantee for certain seller transactions; responding to inquiries from customers;
and supply chain management for our manufactured electronic devices. Fulfillment costs also include
amounts paid to third parties that assist us in fulfillment and customer service operations.

Marketing
Marketing costs primarily consist of targeted online advertising, television advertising, public relations
expenditures, and payroll and related expenses for personnel engaged in marketing and selling
activities. We pay commissions to participants in our Associates program when their customer referrals
result in product sales and classify such costs as “Marketing” on our consolidated statements of
operations. We also participate in cooperative advertising arrangements with certain of our vendors,
and other third parties. Advertising and other promotional costs are expensed as incurred and were
$3.3 billion, $3.8 billion, and $5.0 billion in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Prepaid advertising costs were not
significant as of December 31, 2015 and 2016.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 11
Technology and Content
Technology costs consist principally of research and development activities including payroll and
related expenses for employees involved in application, production, maintenance, operation, and
development of new and existing products and services, as well as AWS and other technology
infrastructure costs. Content costs consist principally of payroll and related expenses for employees
involved in category expansion, editorial content, buying, and merchandising selection. Technology
and content costs are expensed as incurred, except for certain costs relating to the development of
internal-use software and website development, including software used to upgrade and enhance our
websites and applications supporting our business, which are capitalized and amortized over two years.

General and Administrative
General and administrative expenses primarily consist of payroll and related expenses; facilities and
equipment, such as depreciation expense and rent; professional fees and litigation costs; and other
general corporate costs for corporate functions, including accounting, finance, tax, legal, and human
resources, among others.

Other Operating Expense, Net
Other operating expense, net, consists primarily of marketing-related, contract-based, and customer-
related intangible asset amortization expense, and expenses related to legal settlements.
Source: Amazon.com, Inc. 10-K, December 31, 2016.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 12
Exhibit 5 Amazon.com, Inc. 2014-16 Segment Information ($ Millions)
Year Ended December 31,
201620152014
Net sales
Retail 123,768

99,126

84,344
AWS 12,219

7,880

4,644

135,987

107,006

88,988

Year Ended December 31,
201620152014
Operating income
Retail 1,078

726

(280)
AWS 3,108

1,507

458

4,186

2,233

178
Source: Amazon.com, Inc. 10-K, December 31, 2016.
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 13
Exhibit 6 Amazon.com, Inc. Non-GAAP Financial Measures ($ Millions)
Free Cash Flow
Free cash flow is cash flow from operations reduced by “Purchases of property and equipment,
including internal-use software and website development, net,” which is included in cash flow from
investing activities. The following is a reconciliation of free cash flow to the most comparable GAAP
cash flow measure, “Net cash provided by (used in) operating activities,” for 2014, 2015, and 2016 (in
millions):

Year Ended December 31,
201620152014
Net cash provided by (used in) operating activities 16,443

11,920

6,842
Purchases of property and equipment, including internal-use software
and website development, net
(6,737)

(4,589)

(4,893)
Free cash flow 9,706

7,331

1,949

Free Cash Flow Less Lease Principal Repayments
Free cash flow less lease principal repayments is free cash flow reduced by “Principal repayments of
capital lease obligations,” and “Principal repayments of finance lease obligations,” which are included
in cash flow from financing activities. Free cash flow less lease principal repayments approximates the
actual payments of cash for our capital and finance leases. The following is a reconciliation of free cash
flow less lease principal repayments to the most comparable GAAP cash flow measure, “Net cash
provided by (used in) operating activities,” for 2014, 2015, and 2016 (in millions):

Year Ended December 31,
201620152014
Net cash provided by (used in) operating activities 16,443

11,920

6,842
Purchases of property and equipment, including internal-use software
and website development, net
(6,737)

(4,589)

(4,893)
Principal repayments of capital lease obligations (3,860)

(2,462)

(1,285)
Principal repayments of finance lease obligations (147)

(121)

(135)
Free cash flow less lease principal repayments 5,699

4,748

529

Free Cash Flow Less Finance Lease Principal Repayments and Assets Acquired Under Capital
Leases
Free cash flow less finance lease principal repayments and assets acquired under capital leases is free
cash flow reduced by “Principal repayments of finance lease obligations,” which are included in cash
flow from financing activities, and property and equipment acquired under capital leases. In this
measure, property and equipment acquired under capital leases is reflected as if these assets had been
purchased with cash, which is not the case as these assets have been leased. The following is a
reconciliation of free cash flow less finance lease principal repayments and assets acquired under
capital leases to the most comparable GAAP cash flow measure, “Net cash provided by (used in)
operating activities,” for 2014, 2015, and 2016 (in millions):
AMAZON.COM, INC.
Christopher Noe and Joseph Weber
Rev. February 19, 2019 14

Year Ended December 31,
201620152014
Net cash provided by (used in) operating activities 16,443

11,920

6,842
Purchases of property and equipment, including internal-use software
and website development, net
(6,737)

(4,589)

(4,893)
Property and equipment acquired under capital leases (5,704)

(4,717)

(4,008)
Principal repayments of finance lease obligations (147)

(121)

(135)
Free cash flow less finance lease principal repayments and assets
acquired under capital leases
3,855

2,493

(2,194)
Source: Amazon.com, Inc. 10-K, December 31, 2016.

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