Given the steep downturn in Amazon’s stock price and stiff operational challenges ahead, could Jeff Bezos pull a Bob Iger and return as the company’s CEO?
One investor is predicting that scenario will play out in 2023. A comeback by Bezos, who handed the reins to longtime company vet Andy Jassy in mid-2021 and became executive chairman, is one of 10 financial market predictions for this year by Michael Batnick, managing partner at Ritholtz Wealth Management.
Batnick pins his prediction mainly on the company’s depressed stock price. While 2022 was a brutal year for many tech stocks, and the overall market’s worst since 2008, Amazon’s 50% plunge was the company’s biggest since 2000, the year the dotcom bubble burst. (In two market session thus far in 2023, shares have risen 1%.) The stock losses shaved off a remarkable $840 billion in market value in just a year’s time, along with some $100 billion from the personal net worth of Bezos.
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“The company he spent his life building is struggling big-time,” Batnick told CNBC in an interview Wednesday. A CEO reversing an earlier departure is “not without precedent,” the investor added. At Disney, “Bob Iger just did this. [Starbucks boss] Howard Schultz has pulled this multiple times.”
Under Jassy, Amazon’s financial glide path during Covid gave way to turbulence as inflation and a host of other economic factors conspired against it. When the company reported third-quarter earnings last October, it issued surprisingly weak guidance for 2023, saying total revenue would inch up by only 2% to 8% over last year’s tally.
“There are a lot of cross-currents that Amazon is facing, no doubt about it,” Batnick concedes. But he said the personal losses as well as the dire straits of his creation would be enough to lure Bezos, who will turn 59 next week, back to the corner office.
From a slowdown in advertising to rising shipping, labor and logistics costs, Amazon is facing a difficult operating climate. On Tuesday, the company disclosed in an SEC filing that it had obtained a loan of $8 billion for “general corporate purposes.” In a statement to tech and financial media outlets, a spokesperson for the company cited the “uncertain macroeconomic environment” as the motivation for the loan.
After Covid caused an explosion of customer demand, Amazon decided to double its network of fulfilment centers, only to see the winds shift coming out of the worst of the pandemic. Plans for many new facilities have had to be scaled back or put on hold, and layoffs have hit its workforce of 1.3 million — a rare step for a tech behemoth that was in the midst of a hiring spree when Jassy took the helm. While the company remains a goliath in many sectors — including entertainment, with Prime Video having perhaps its peak year in 2022 — its momentum overall has largely stalled. Now is the time for regrouping, rather than the world-building of 2020.
Jassy, of course, is no novice. A 25-year company vet, the Harvard Business School grad most recently was the head of Amazon’s crown jewel division, Amazon Web Services. And yet, the affable but intense music enthusiast wasn’t widely seen as a potential heir to the throne. He has said he had no plans to seek higher office at the time Bezos reached out to him in 2021. Unlike the Disney situation, which saw Iger get increasingly isolated and then second-guess the moves of hand-picked successor Bob Chapek, Bezos still keeps a hand in Amazon’s day-to-day operations and there hasn’t been much public drama.
“I didn’t really think Jeff was ever going to do something different” with the CEO role, Jassy said a few weeks ago at the New York Times DealBook conference. When he and Bezos spoke about the handoff, “I spent most of the first part of that conversation asking if he was sure he wanted to make a change.”
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