SEATTLE — President Trump’s use of Twitter to renew complaints about Amazon.com and founder Jeff Bezos dominated conversations in both Washingtons earlier this spring, with consumers, retailers and investors wondering how — and whether — the White House might try to punish the company for alleged misdeeds.
“I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state and local governments, use our postal system as their delivery boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” Trump tweeted on March 29.
White House sources told reporters that Trump had been wondering aloud whether there might be a way to target Amazon’s tax treatment or build an antitrust case against the company. Others speculated that the real object of Trump’s ire might be The Washington Post, which Bezos bought in 2013 and has been perhaps the president’s harshest critic.
“So many stories about me in the @washingtonpost are Fake News,” Trump tweeted last summer. “They are as bad as ratings challenged @CNN. Lobbyist for Amazon and taxes?”
By dragging Amazon into his grudge against The Post, Trump succeeded in doing real damage to Amazon: The company shed $60 billion of its market value following reports of Trump’s ire against it, shaving several billions off Bezos’ net worth, however temporarily.
If the White House does try to cut Amazon down to size, it might find some support among its retail-sector rivals. Former Walmart executive Bill Simon told CNBC last month he thinks Amazon is killing off retail companies and destroying jobs. Simon urged Congress to consider breaking up the company.
“They’re not making money in retail,” Simon said on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” late last month. Amazon is subsidizing its profit-losing retail operations with money-making parts of the business, most notably its cloud computing unit, Amazon Web Services, which posted revenue of $5.1 billion in the fourth quarter, a gain of 44% from a year earlier. The unit generated $17.4 billion for Amazon in 2017, a 43% jump over its year-earlier total.
Numbers like these mean that Amazon can sell merchandise and prices that its retailing rivals can’t match, Simon said. “It’s anticompetitive, it’s predatory and it’s not right.”
Others noted that, despite the recent venting, Trump passed up an opportunity to create havoc for Bezos and company last summer when the White House declined to raise antitrust objections to Amazon’s Whole Foods Market acquisition.