This Stock Picker Says Amazon Is ‘The Most Incredible Company in the World’

May 4, 2016, 7:55 PM UTC
Key Speakers At The 21st Annual Sohn Investment Conference
Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and chief executive officer of Social Capital LP, speaks during the 21st annual Sohn Investment Conference in New York on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.
Bloomberg/Getty Images

Chamath Palihapitiya, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist who founded Social Capital and used to work at Facebook, was a new face at New York’s Sohn Investment Conference on Wednesday, where hedge fund managers present their best stock picks and short—meaning they would bet against—ideas.

Palihapitiya, however, is officially one of the hedgies now: His new hedge fund, revealed in Fortune in April, launches this month.

While launching a long/short hedge fund might seem unusual for a VC who says his “mission is to advance humanity by solving the world’s hardest problems,” Palihapitiya explained that a single publicly traded company had convinced him to start picking stocks. The company, he said, had an opportunity to deliver a “10x” return in 10 years, a windfall virtually unheard of outside the world of private startups and venture capital.

“For the first time on our investment horizon we’ve found a company that we can say that about in the public markets,” Palihapitiya said. “And that company is Valeant (VRX).”

In case you didn’t get it, Palihapitiya was making a joke. “Too soon?” he asked the laughing crowd, with a glance towards Bill Ackman, who was in the audience and presented Valeant as his top stock idea at the Sohn Conference exactly a year ago, but did not take the stage this year. Valeant’s stock has fallen more than 80% since Ackman’s presentation.

Palihapitiya’s stock pick was actually Amazon (AMZN), whose logo appeared on a slide behind him even as he mentioned Valeant. Ackman, for his part, said in a conversation with Fortune after the presentation that he appreciated the joke. “I laughed,” Ackman said.

“It’s a multi-trillion dollar monopoly hiding between us in plain sight,” Palihapitiya said of Amazon.

Amazon, a tech darling, is not exactly a shocking choice for a Silicon Valley investor. But many traditional Wall Street types have criticized or remained wary of investing in Amazon, pointing to its high valuation and meager profits, which have only turned positive in the past year.

Nonsense, Palihapitiya argued, explaining that Amazon’s 5% margins are probably at their “natural” level. But “we should not think that the business is unprofitable,” Palihapitiya said.

Instead, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will continue reinvesting in the company rather than returning capital to shareholders, Palihapitiya said, portraying Bezos’ philosophy as something similar to that of legendary investor Warren Buffett, who has famously refused to pay dividends to his shareholders. The reasoning: Both Buffett and Bezos can make more money investing your money than you can.

So far, Palihapitiya said, Bezos has accomplished an average annual 33% return on invested capital, turning $18 billion into more than $200 billion in value. Over the next eight years, the VC expects Bezos to keep reinvesting and “king-making” on an even greater scale, growing the company’s Amazon Web Services business and acquiring new major corporate customers.

By 2024, Amazon and Bezos will have generated more than $90 billion “of investable capital that he will probably not return to us,” Palihapitiya said. “He’s going to invest in in the business, he’s going to invent things.”

For investors who might then wish they had bought Amazon back when the stock was a lot cheaper, Palihapitiya predicted that Amazon’s growth was only just beginning. “We think this is the most incredible company being built today in the world,” he said. “If you believe in buying things, if you believe in consumer consumption, you have to own Amazon.”

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