Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) Probed by U.S. Antitrust Officials Over Marketplace

Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) Probed by U.S. Antitrust Officials Over Marketplace

Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) Probed by U.S. Antitrust Officials Over Marketplace

A team of Federal Trade Commission investigators has begun interviewing small businesses that sell products on Amazon.com Inc. to determine whether the e-commerce giant is using its market power to hurt competition.

Several attorneys and at least one economist have been conducting interviews that typically last about 90 minutes and cover a range of topics, according to three merchants. All were asked what percentage of revenue their businesses derive from Amazon versus other online marketplaces like Walmart Inc. and EBay Inc., suggesting regulators are skeptical about Amazon’s claims that shoppers and suppliers have real alternatives to the Seattle-based company. One merchant, Jaivin Karnani, said he was surprised the FTC returned his call the very next day. 

The interviews indicate the agency is in the early stages of a sweeping probe to learn how Amazon works, spot practices that break the law and identify markets dominated by the company. The length of the interviews and the manpower devoted to examining Amazon point to a serious inquiry rather than investigators merely responding to complaints and going through the motions, antitrust experts say.

Amazon shares fell less than 1% to $1,812 at 9:36 a.m. in New York.

“Early in an investigation, that’s a sign of staff doing a serious job,” said Michael Kades, who spent 20 years at the FTC. “They’re spending lots of time with witnesses and trying to really understand what they’re saying.”

Amazon hasn’t disclosed an investigation by the FTC, and the agency rarely confirms scrutiny of individual companies. But Chairman Joe Simons told Bloomberg in August that he welcomed hearing from third-party merchants, who now sell more than half of products on Amazon. Such private conversations are likely to yield far more insights into Amazon’s business than the public grilling of tech executives by Congressional committees.

Amazon declined to comment and pointed to a statement Consumer Business chief Jeff Wilke made in June when asked about reports that the FTC was looking into Amazon. ”We believe that most substantial entities in the economy deserve scrutiny,” he said. “Our job is to build the kind of company that passes that scrutiny with flying colors.” The FTC declined to comment. 

The probe is part of a broader examination of the control companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook have over the U.S. economy. The FTC is also investigating Facebook while the Justice Department is probing Google. Separately, 50 state attorneys general have announced an antitrust probe of Google. The House Judiciary Committee is also probing big technology companies. One area of interest is whether Amazon has an unfair advantage over third party merchants when it competes with them to sell similar products on its own platform.

A key early task for the FTC is defining Amazon’s competitive universe. The company has long argued that it should be considered a retailer that competes against rivals online and offline, a designation that Amazon says gives it a meager 4% share of the U.S. retail market. If Amazon’s market is narrowly defined as online shopping, its share rises to almost 40%—giving it significant leverage. Narrowing the market by product category, such as electronic books, gives Amazon even more dominance.

The FTC is also seeking to determine the extent of Amazon’s power over its suppliers. All three merchants fielded questions on how much of their revenue comes from Amazon compared with other online platforms. Many sellers get 90% or more of their sales from Amazon, making them vulnerable to the company’s demands and abrupt, unexplained changes in its policy.

FTC investigators examining Amazon likely want to move quickly to make sure states or other agencies don’t get ahead of them, said Jennifer Rie, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence who specializes in antitrust litigation. The investigators start by learning the inner workings of the company before narrowing their inquiry.

Molson Hart, who sells toys on Amazon through his company Viahart, said he spoke with the FTC for 90 minutes about an article he posted on Medium detailing how 98% of his sales come from Amazon and that other platforms like EBay and Walmart account for less than 2% of revenue. He declined to discuss specifics of his conversation with FTC investigators but said the conversation focused on his Medium article. It argued that Amazon, which faces little competition online, has been raising fees and selling advertising—forcing merchants to raise prices.

Another Amazon merchant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he spent about 90 minutes on the phone with an FTC investigator in July and has since provided the agency with documents and data.

He described helping triple sales of a health and beauty brand by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise on the site. Amazon noticed, placed its own wholesale orders with the brand and sold the product directly, cutting him out and sticking him with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unsold inventory. Another time, he told investigators, Amazon discovered one of his products being sold for less at Walmart.com and then made the item less visible to shoppers until the Walmart price went back up.

If merchants are so reliant on Amazon for sales that they are unwilling to offer better prices on other platforms like Walmart and EBay, that can hurt competition, said Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for aggressive antitrust enforcement.  “That really is the central question in an inquiry like this, and that’s why Amazon downplays its market power.”

Technical Indicators

Overall, the bias in prices is: Downwards.

The projected upper bound is: 1,893.59.

The projected lower bound is: 1,748.42.

The projected closing price is: 1,821.01.

Candlesticks

A white body occurred (because prices closed higher than they opened).
During the past 10 bars, there have been 5 white candles and 5 black candles. During the past 50 bars, there have been 21 white candles and 29 black candles for a net of 8 black candles.

An engulfing bullish line occurred (where a white candle’s real body completely contains the previous black candle’s real body). The engulfing bullish pattern is bullish during a downtrend. It then signifies that the momentum may be shifting from the bears to the bulls.

If the engulfing bullish pattern occurs during an uptrend (which appears to be the case with AMAZON COM), it may be a last engulfing top which indicates a top. The test to see if this is the case is if the next candle closes below the top of the current (white) candle’s real body.

Momentum Indicators

Momentum is a general term used to describe the speed at which prices move over a given time period. Generally, changes in momentum tend to lead to changes in prices. This expert shows the current values of four popular momentum indicators.

Stochastic Oscillator

One method of interpreting the Stochastic Oscillator is looking for overbought areas (above 80) and oversold areas (below 20). The Stochastic Oscillator is 58.3727. This is not an overbought or oversold reading. The last signal was a sell 1 period(s) ago.

Relative Strength Index (RSI)

The RSI shows overbought (above 70) and oversold (below 30) areas. The current value of the RSI is 50.85. This is not a topping or bottoming area. A buy or sell signal is generated when the RSI moves out of an overbought/oversold area. The last signal was a buy 24 period(s) ago.

Commodity Channel Index (CCI)

The CCI shows overbought (above 100) and oversold (below -100) areas. The current value of the CCI is 66. This is not a topping or bottoming area. The last signal was a sell 1 period(s) ago.

MACD

The Moving Average Convergence/Divergence indicator (MACD) gives signals when it crosses its 9 period signal line. The last signal was a buy 16 period(s) ago.

Rex Takasugi – TD Profile

AMAZON COM closed up 2.440 at 1,822.990. Volume was 34% below average (neutral) and Bollinger Bands were 45% narrower than normal.

Open     High      Low     Close     Volume___
1,812.1401,833.4201,809.0801,822.990 2,432,767
Technical Outlook 
Short Term: Neutral
Intermediate Term: Bullish
Long Term: Bullish
Moving Averages: 10-period     50-period     200-period
Close: 1,806.65 1,870.54 1,768.39
Volatility: 16 25 38
Volume: 2,824,542 3,394,368 4,666,777

Short-term traders should pay closer attention to buy/sell arrows while intermediate/long-term traders should place greater emphasis on the Bullish or Bearish trend reflected in the lower ribbon.

Summary

AMAZON COM is currently 3.1% above its 200-period moving average and is in an upward trend. Volatility is extremely low when compared to the average volatility over the last 10 periods. There is a good possibility that there will be an increase in volatility along with sharp price fluctuations in the near future. Our volume indicators reflect volume flowing into and out of AMZN.O at a relatively equal pace (neutral). Our trend forecasting oscillators are currently bullish on AMZN.O and have had this outlook for the last 2 periods.

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