Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos’ divorce: what that means for Amazon

Investors in Amazon, the most valuable company on Wall Street, anxiously await the outcome of CEO Jeff Bezos’ divorce after the couple announced their separation in a joint statement on Twitter on Wednesday morning.

“We have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends,” said the statement. “If we had known we would separate after 25 years we would do it all again.”

While the couple gave no reason for the split, various US media are reporting that Jeff Bezos has been romantically involved with a former Fox TV host, Lauren Sánchez.

But what has the business world frantically speculating is how Jeff Bezos’ personal fortune, worth an estimated US$140 billion, and his more than 16 per cent ownership stake in Amazon, will be divided with his wife.

In Washington State, where the couple primarily lives, spouses are required to equitably divide ‘community property’, including all income generated during a marriage. However, the couple could choose to file for divorce in another US state where they own property and would be subject to different conditions. Various US media have reported the couple did not have a prenuptial agreement.

How that process will unfold, and if Mackenzie Bezos will receive half of Jeff’s Amazon stock, has some investors questioning the future. “His announced divorce gives me pause for thought,” said prominent short seller Doug Kass to the Sydney Morning Herald. Kass, owner of hedge fund Seabreeze Partners Management Inc., sold his stock in Amazon upon announcement of the divorce after only buying a stake in late December.

Despite Kass’ move, most analysts are predicting little will change in the growth of the company as a result of the divorce. However, unlike Facebook and Google, Amazon does not give its founder’s shares greater voting rights. Which means Mackenzie Bezos, if given a large portion of shares, could have significant power within the company.

If the assets are split equally, Mackenzie Bezos, a successful fiction writer in her own right, would be worth more than US$68 billion, making her the world’s richest woman, and the title of the world’s richest man would revert back to Bill Gates.

The couple have four children – three sons and an adopted daughter – and last year they launched a charity project together, the Day One Fund. The project aims to help homeless families and build preschools in low-income communities. Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post and rocket company Blue Origin.

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