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Originally published Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 9:01 PM

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Amazon analyst frozen out on company Q&A calls

Analyst skeptical about Amazon wonders why he’s not getting a chance to ask questions during the e-commerce giant’s quarterly conference calls.

Seattle Times business staff

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Colin Gillis knows he’s not winning any popularity contests at Amazon.com.

The New York stock analyst and Amazon bear has long wondered if his criticism of the company explains why he never gets picked to ask a question during management’s quarterly teleconferences with Wall Street.

But that suspicion turned to anger last month when Amazon did not send Gillis the dial-in number for its first-quarter earnings call. While Gillis could listen to a live webcast of the call, he had no chance to join other analysts in the question-and-answer session.

“Am I being excluded because I have a negative voice on the name?” Gillis said. “Is this really how they want to operate?”

Unlike Google or Apple, Amazon no longer distributes its dial-in information through such services as Bloomberg and FactSet. Instead, Seattle-based Amazon emails that information directly to analysts —- just not Gillis.

Eight hours before the April 25 earnings call, Gillis called Amazon headquarters to speak to Vice President of Investor Relations Sean Boyle. But, according to Gillis, a corporate receptionist refused to transfer him to Boyle or provide contact information.

Gillis, who has covered Amazon for five years as senior technology analyst at BGC Partners, a global brokerage, dashed off an email to the company’s investor relations department.

“If I get no reply, and given that you cannot be called, it is going to look that Amazon as a public company is excluding sending the dial in earnings information from an analyst who does not rate the stock a buy,” Gillis wrote. “I hope to hear from you before I go on Fox business at 2 p.m. ET.”

The incident reinforced Gillis’ view of Amazon as “hostile” to analysts and investors. Gillis long has argued the company’s lofty stock price and scant financial disclosure make for an especially risky combination.

Amazon does not disclose the size of its Prime membership program, a linchpin of its efforts to persuade customers to spend more money on its website. And it does not provide specific sales figures for its Kindle devices, despite touting their popularity. Apple, in contrast, regularly reports how many iPads and iPhones it sells, said Gillis, an Apple bull.

Two years ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) asked Amazon about the significance of its Kindle e-reader sales and why it doesn’t disclose them. Amazon replied that the device sales were “not material” to its 2010 financial results and kept them under wraps.

“In general, I think everyone would say we wish they’d provide more details about their business, but that’s not what they want to do,” said Needham & Co. analyst Kerry Rice, who along with Gillis has a hold rating on Amazon stock.

Rice said that while he makes a point of listening to Amazon’s calls, Chief Financial Officer and Q&A host Tom Szkutak is tight-lipped.

“A lot of it is, ‘We don’t disclose that,’ ” Rice said. “I don’t find the calls super-helpful.”

The SEC requires publicly traded companies to make their earnings calls accessible, either by phone or webcast. But there’s no rule that companies must take questions from analysts, said SEC spokeswoman Christina D’Amico.

Gillis analyzed a transcript of Amazon’s April call and found that 14 of the 16 analysts chosen to ask a question — 88 percent — rated the stock a “buy.” By comparison, 68 percent of all analysts had “buy” ratings, he said.

Boyle, the investor relations VP, did not respond to a Times request for comment last week, but a member of his team did write Gillis on April 28 — three days after the earnings call — to apologize. The team member also gave Boyle’s contact information and offered to send the dial-in number for Amazon’s next call.

Meanwhile, Gillis said he’d still like to know how Amazon decides who gets to ask questions, and why it no longer distributes dial-in information through Bloomberg and FactSet. Even so, he sounded a bit less angry after Amazon’s email.

“They provided me what I needed, albeit late,” Gillis said. “From now on, I’ll request to have the dial-in sent to me.”

We wonder if he’ll get to ask a question, too.

Amy Martinez: amartinez@seattletimes.com

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