Ignore Ocado's profits: The company just said it will expand internationally

Tim Steiner OcadoOcadoOcado CEO Tim Steiner.

Ocado today recorded its first annual profit in 2014, five years after being floated on the stock exchange. The company booked a pre-tax profit of £7.2 million and the business press is going bananas over the news.

The stock is up 3% today on the news and up 63% over the last three months.

Ocado, founded in 2000, is an online delivery supermarket. It’s basically Amazon for food. It even has its own warehouses.

The sudden appearance of money on Ocado’s bottom line is news because (until yesterday) as everyone “knows,” Ocado doesn’t make profits! And maybe it cannot make profits! And therefore it is doomed!

That’s the mantra that surrounds Ocado, driven largely by analysts who compare it to the supermarkets it competes with. The problem is that Ocado is not a supermarket, it’s a mobile shopping app, and unless you see it as such you will continuously underestimate what this company is going to do.

OcadoYahooOcado stock popped up 3% on the news.

The profit is largely irrelevant to the overall direction of Ocado’s business, because Ocado operates the same way Amazon does: It spends all its profits immediately on growing its business. For this reason it is usually unprofitable. And for this reason its revenues are always growing. It is a growth company, not an earnings-per-share company.

Here are the two most important things we heard from CEO Tim Steiner’s results presentation today:

  • Revenues grew nearly 20% to nearly £1 billion. Yep — Ocado is now a £1 billion British food delivery business. That’s amazing. No other major supermarket in the UK is growing like that. They are all in decline. Ocado is smaller, sure, but check back in a few years. It will be slicing market share from Tesco, Waitrose et al. at these growth rates.
  • Steiner confirmed he is about to do a deal to expand the company internationally. “I can’t tell you exactly when it ‘s going to happen,” he said. But the company is having a number of conversations with other companies and “we are targeting to turn one into a deal in 2015 that will go live later than that.”

So it looks like Steiner is about to spend all that profit on yet another expansion of the company. Again, note that the profit here might indeed be temporary if Ocado uses it to fuel a deal elsewhere.

Business Insider noted recently that Steiner had previously met with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Steiner talked about Amazon in his presentation today, too. He was asked whether he was worried about Amazon’s Fresh grocery service arriving in the UK.

“I’m not concerned. We have really fierce competitors here in the market today. … We welcome competition,” Steiner said.

Well, sure. But it’s interesting that he even mentioned the word “Amazon” given that Amazon isn’t even operating in the UK. He’s either very sure that Bezos believes it would be difficult to compete against Ocado at this late stage, or he is hoping in some way to attract Amazon’s attention.

That last possibility is enticing because Ocado is exactly the type of company that Amazon has historically acquired.

Here’s the three-month stock chart. Investors seem to have finally grown comfortable with a mobile app company that doesn’t make profits:

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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