Trading Desk: Amazon Pulls Out The Save

The first-quarter earnings season isn’t over yet and I can confidently declare the Most Valuable Player for the entire year. Amazon (AMZN) has not only flipped from a post-COVID loss to strong enough profitability to support the entire S&P 500.

This is a big deal. Wall Street was only expecting mighty AMZN to give us $0.21 per share last quarter. We got $0.10 extra, which is enough to turn what was already going to be a substantial recovery into something even better.

While it’s difficult to calculate the percentage change when comparing a loss to a gain, when you’re dealing with a trillion-dollar stock the extra $0.10 translates into about $1 billion in unanticipated profit coming into the S&P 500 as a whole. That’s still real money.

In fact, it’s enough to raise overall earnings across the market by a full percentage point if the trend continues for the rest of the year. I think AMZN can do it. After all, holding onto the existing business isn’t a problem.

The problem is maintaining future growth. When you’re running a trillion-dollar company, an extra $1 billion here and there barely amounts to an accounting error. For that matter, a $100 stock on track to book about $1.50 per share in full-year profit looks awfully precarious.

We would normally want to see substantial year-over-year growth over an extended period to pay that multiple. AMZN is bouncing back nicely from its post-COVID stumble, but it’s still going to take until at least 2024 before earnings even match 2020 levels . . . much less give us a clear route forward.

In the meantime, we’re still looking at a stock that’s dropped 4% from its pre-COVID peak while earnings are still up about 30% from 2019 levels. AMZN is a good swing trade if you’re looking to grab a quick 20-40% upswing . . . but after that, I really would rather be in the small caps that have real long-term potential.

The cloud is mature now. It’s gone about as far as it can. AMZN has a choice: annihilate everything else in retail or give up on growth and become like Walmart (WMT).

And to come back to the market as a whole, I think that’s the challenge facing the S&P 500 in the aggregate. Growth has hit a wall. The old expansion plans have gone as far as they can.

Factor out AMZN and projected earnings growth across the S&P 500 this year drops to near zero. Admittedly, the second half looks a lot better than the season we’re in now, but the current earnings recession and the anticipated earnings recovery still basically balance out, leaving the bottom line roughly where it was last year.

That’s not great. But there are always hot spots and cold ones. AMZN is obviously a hot spot . . . for now. So are rebounding web giants Alphabet (GOOG) and Meta (META). The airlines and, believe it or not, the banks are also leading the way.

I even like General Motors (GM) right now and wouldn’t rule out that company continuing to beat expectations for the remainder of the year. To be blunt, GM is recovering its COVID slump better than AMZN.

And it’s running rings around Tesla (TSLA). We were counting on that stock to be the market’s growth engine this year, but now it’s clear that isn’t likely to happen. At least AMZN rose to the occasion. Great company. Not a great stock right now.