Here's How Amazon.com, Inc. Crushed It in 2017

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Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) is having a banner year in 2017. At the end of November, share prices have skyrocketed 60% higher year to date. Here's a quick recap of how Amazon pulled off this market-smashing performance, just in case you need a reminder.

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Steady as she goes

A steady drumbeat of impressive business results provided a strong foundation for this year's massive gains.

Amazon smashed Wall Street's earnings estimates in February's report of last year's holiday quarter. Three months later, the e-commerce giant surpassed all expectations in the first quarter. The company took a breather from earnings surprises in the second quarter, but the third-quarter update absolutely crushed Wall Street's targets.

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) division is boosting Amazon's bottom-line profits in a big way while the Prime free shipping club keeps online shoppers loyal. Together, this one-two punch delivers plenty of shareholder value.

What's going on?

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We Amazon investors had plenty of news to keep us busy along the way to these earnings-based milestones.

  • A fantastically successful Prime Day event saw sales rising 60% year over year while "tens of millions" of Prime members took advantage of the day's deals. With just three years of history under its belt, Amazon's private Black Friday is already the online shopping event of the summer.
  • In a blockbuster $13.7 billion deal, Amazon bought upscale supermarket chain Whole Foods Market. The companies wasted no time closing their merger -- the deal was announced in June, met regulatory approvals two months later, and closed the following Monday.
  • Thanks to the stock's indomitable long-term gains, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos passed Microsoft founder Bill Gates to become the world's richest man. As of this writing, Bezos' 17% stake in Amazon is worth a mind-blowing $100.3 billion.

What's next?

Many investors write Amazon off due to its sky-high price-to-earnings ratio. The stock currently trades at 300 times trailing earnings and 150 times forward estimates.

But those figures are a product of Amazon's tax accounting procedures. Net income may have stopped at just $1.9 billion over the last four quarters, but free cash flows clocked in at $7.2 billion. EBITDA profits, which arguably measure a company's operating income in its purest form, have nearly tripled over the last three years to stop at a cool $14 billion. There are many ways to measure a company's profitability, and Amazon comes out looking like a cash machine in most cases.

The Whole Foods buyout is taking Amazon down some brand-new paths, and makes the company more comparable to traditional retailers with networks of brick-and-mortar stores. That being said, Whole Foods represents approximately 10% of Amazon's total sales and won't move the company's needle very far. The deal's long-term effects may be more powerful, but it's not a game changer in the short run.

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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Anders Bylund owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.