FILE PHOTO: Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City
By David Randall
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc shares see-sawed on Thursday as investors questioned how the impending divorce of company founder Jeff Bezos would affect his control of the most valuable company on Wall Street and its ambitious expansion plans.
Bezos, whom Forbes lists at the world's richest person with an estimated $136.2 billion, said via Twitter on Wednesday that he and his wife of 25 years, Mackenzie, will divorce. Amazon shares were flat in midday trading on Thursday after spending most of the morning down slightly.
The split throws into question how the couple will split their fortune, which includes an approximately 16 percent ownership stake in Amazon's roughly $811.4 billion market capitalization. Divorce laws in Washington state, where they live, hold that property acquired during a marriage is generally divided equally between spouses.
Most analysts and fund managers are largely sanguine and say the divorce will not lead to any significant change in the company's leadership or its growth prospects.
Prominent short-seller Doug Kass, however, who runs hedge fund Seabreeze Partners, said he sold his stake in Amazon on news of the divorce. That was after initially buying a stake in late December and naming Amazon among his "best ideas list."
"Is it premature to ask what happens to Amazon when Jeff Bezos chooses to turn over the day-to-day running of the company he founded?" he said. "His announced divorce gives me pause for thought."
Robert Bacarella, portfolio manager of the Monetta fund, said that while he is not changing his investment in Amazon, he expects other growth-focused portfolio managers may trim their stakes due to concerns about the divorce's impact.
"This is such an over-owned company and this gives them an excuse to say 'Maybe I'll trim some back because it adds a new question mark'," he said.
Bacarella, however, said he is not concerned because even if MacKenzie Bezos liquidated her expected 8 percent stake, there would be no fundamental reason behind the sale. Any impact would be short-term in nature.
"Unless you worry that he will get so distracted by the divorce that he cannot manage the company, this will be a non-event," said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles. "He is given control of the company because shareholders like him and his vision, not because he has 50 percent of the stock."
Thomas Forte, an analyst at D.A. Davidson, said questions about the future of the company due to the divorce are legitimate due to Jeff Bezos' outsized influence on its value. Should he leave the company for any reason, its shares would likely immediately fall more than 10 percent, he said.
“His influence on the company is as a significant as if he had super-voting shares because of his track record and the way he runs the company as if he owned the whole thing," he said.
(Reporting by David Randall; Editing by Dan Grebler)