August 24, 2012

Sales up, earnings down: Same old same old in Amazon’s latest quarterly report


Amazon announced its quarterly numbers yesterday, and it was an old story, best repeated by David Streitfeld in a report for the New York Times:

Leaping revenue, little profit.

That is the long-established Amazon story, and those who expected to hear it again Thursday were not disappointed.

The company reported sales of $12.8 billion, up 29 percent, in the second quarter while it eked out net income of $7 million, or a penny a share …. down from 41 cents a share in the second quarter of 2011.

Yep, once again sales were up while earnings were down — just like they were last quarter, and the quarter before that, and so on

As Streitfeld notes,

This would be devastating news from some Internet companies. But Amazon bulls were unfazed, saying the retailer was investing, as always, in the future.

“If they keep this up, there’s a good possibility that you’re looking at shopping malls going the way of the record store and the bookstore and the video rental store,” said Jason Moser, who covers Amazon for the Motley Fool investment site.

Not everyone was so bullish. As the headline to a Businessweek story put it, “Amazon Profit Tumbles as Bezos Splurges on Warehouses.” Crunching the numbers a little further, Businessweek reporter Danielle Kucera observes that Amazon’s “Net income fell 96 percent to $7 million, or 1 cent a share, the steepest decline since 2002.”

It’s a “spree,” not a “splurge,” says the Wall Street Journal, where a report by Paul Vigna restates the net income numbers even more dramatically: “earnings fell 96% to $7 million, or 1 cent a share, from $191 million, or 41 cents a share a year ago amid a big spending spree as it builds out its operations.” To make matters worse, Vigna says “That spending spree drove operating margins to their worst level in a year, and while the second-quarter’s weakness was expected, the company also projected a third-quarter operating loss, which the Street wasn’t expecting.”

A paidContent report by Laura Hazard Owen notes some other worries on the Street:

Investors have been concerned about the cost of Amazon Prime, which — as Jeff Bezos claims in the press release — “is now the best bargain in the history of shopping,” its price of $79 unchanged since it was introduced seven years ago. (Does that mean we can expect a price hike sometime soon?)

In the Times, David Streitfeld notes that not even Amazon is quite as bullish about its warehouse “spree/splurge” as some. While the company is indeed building numerous warehouses with the aim of faster delivery to customers, the company’s CFO, Thomas J. Szkutak, dampened some expectations about that in a phone call with analysts yesterday:

Amazon fans probably dream of ordering books or bagels and getting them the same day. But Mr. Szkutak indicated this would remain a dream. “We don’t really see a way to do same-day delivery on a broad scale economically,” he cautioned.

Of course, a company historically able to sell below its cost can’t really talk about operating “economically,” except on Wall Street. Note, too, something Laura Hazard Owen is one of the few to report about the filing: “As usual, the company shared no actual sales numbers in its release.”

And yet if we’ve learned anything the last few years about the Wall Street one-percenters, it’s that they have their own set of rules. While all these issues would seem to be something to worry about in a normal business, Streitfeld observes that when it comes to Amazon, investors don’t seem much concerned:

Amazon shares Thursday were up $3 to $220 during regular trading. The stock is trading only about 10 percent below its record high, with a stratospheric price-to-earnings ratio of about 170. In after-hours trading, shares continued rising.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.