Amazon’s stock has risen about 1% today to reach $2,170, which would be an all-time high if it holds up until the market’s close.
The recent runup in the stock — a 25% gain since December — has pushed the company’s valuation close to $1.1 trillion. But the high times on the market come as the company takes some incoming fire on several fronts.
The Federal Trade Commission announced this week it is reviewing hundreds of acquisitions made by Amazon and other tech giants, including many that never were initially reported to regulators. The FTC is looking into whether some of those deals were anti-competitive. Separately, 13 U.S. senators, including surging Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, signed a letter to Amazon blasting its “dismal” worker safety record. The letter cites reporting by The Atlantic and others about warehouse employees being driven to hit quotas despite the toll on their health.
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Amazon itself, meanwhile, has also walked into a whole other lion’s den. The company revealed in court documents that it is aiming to depose President Trump and other administration officials as part of a complaint over Pentagon contracts awarded to Microsoft. Amazon, which has had operatic levels of conflict with Trump throughout his presidency, believes the bidding process for the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure project, or JEDI, was biased.
All in all, it has been an action-packed week for Amazon since CEO Jeff Bezos donned a tuxedo for last Sunday’s Academy Awards. So much so that the company mobilized its head spokesman, Jay Carney, who appeared on CNBC Wednesday. Carney, who came to Amazon five years ago after serving as President Obama’s press secretary, spoke for 17 commercial-free minutes about a range of issues. (Watch the full video above.)
As to JEDI, Carney described the Defense Department’s surprise decision to spurn Amazon, whose AWS operation is regarded as the leader in cloud computing, as the result of “blatant political interference.” While it is “up to lawyers and judges to decide” if Trump or others get deposed, the company’s claim is aiming to “ensure that a proper decision was made on the part of U.S. taxpayers.”
The senators’ letter, meanwhile, which was signed by Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker and Kamala Harris, asks for a written response from Amazon to the concerns it outlines about worker safety. “Any practice that puts profits before worker safety is unacceptable,” it reads. “We urge you to take immediate steps to protect your employees from workplace injuries. Your employees’ lives and well-being depend upon your swift action.”
Carney said the company plans to engage with the senators. As to Amazon’s safety record, he said, “Across the country, injuries are woefully under-reported. That was true at Amazon a number of years ago and we changed the way we report injuries. That spiked the numbers for us. We report well above what’s required by OSHA. But we did it because we wanted the data. We wanted to know exactly what was happening.” He said the company’s fulfillment centers “are open to public tours” and the company has invited “every member of Congress” to take a tour. “Far less than a majority of those senators have ever visited one,” he said. “We’d love to have all of them come.”
As to the FTC inquiry, Carney said the main deal he could speak to during his tenure was the acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017. “You would have thought” based on media coverage at the time, he said, “that Amazon was taking over grocery in America.” In fact, he said, “Whole Foods is one of the smallest grocery chains in America.” Post-acquisition, Amazon controls about 3% or 4% the total grocery business, he said. “I don’t see the argument that we’re somehow anti-competitive.”
Summing up the critiques of the Whole Foods deal — and perhaps the company’s entire week (though it’s only half-over) — Carney added, “We have both well-meaning critics and self-serving, self-interested critics. We try to work with the former and politely disagree with the latter.”
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