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Originally published April 24, 2014 at 1:19 PM | Page modified April 25, 2014 at 9:47 AM

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Amazon’s slim profit meets analyst expectations

The online retail giant’s chief financial officer also suggested that the increase to Amazon Prime hasn’t scared off subscribers.


Seattle Times business reporter

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Amazon.com met analyst expectations in the first quarter Thursday, posting solid sales gains across its vast corporate empire, even as profits remain scant.

“We’re pleased with the overall fundamentals,” Amazon Chief Financial Officer Tom Szkutak said in a conference call with financial analysts. “We continue to add new customers.”

And Szkutak noted that last week’s $20 price increase for Amazon’s Prime subscription service — to $99 a year — doesn’t appear to have scared off customers. He noted that Prime subscriptions, which offer two-day shipping at no extra charge, as well as access to Amazon Prime Instant Video service, continue to grow week over week. At the end of 2013, Amazon said more than 20 million customers have signed up for Prime.

“It’s very early. But we’re very optimistic from what we see,” Szkutak said in a separate call with journalists about the quarterly results. “It’s exceeding the expectations we’ve had.”

For the quarter, Amazon reported a net profit of $108 million, or 23 cents per diluted share, up 31 percent. It had sales of $19.74 billion, up 23 percent from the year-ago period.

The earnings per-share number met the expectations of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, while the sales figure was a bit higher than the $19.4 billion that analysts predicted.

In the fourth quarter, Amazon missed analyst earnings expectations, and the stock dropped from above $400. It hasn’t come near those trading levels since.

Amazon announced earnings after the market closed Thursday. In after-hours trading, Amazon shares initially climbed several dollars. But after the analyst conference call, shares began to drop. By Thursday evening, the stock was trading at $337.75, up 60 cents from the closing price, after climbing $12.57 during the regular trading day.

Shareholders seemed to blanch at Szkutak’s comment that global growth in unit sales during the quarter hit 23 percent. In the fourth quarter, global unit sales growth was 25 percent. Unit sales represent individual products and services sold by the various Amazon websites sites, not including business computing services sold by Amazon Web Services or advertising sold by Amazon Media Group.

“I think the slower unit growth metric provided on the call might have caused a hiccup in the stock, and in our view remains a yellow flag since it is a better proxy than revenues for the overall velocity of the business,” said Robert W. Baird & Co. analyst Colin Sebastian in an email exchange. “Growing above 20 percent is good, but investors may be concerned by the direction that growth rate is headed.”

Amazon also said that it expects an operating loss of between $55 million and $455 million for the current quarter that ends June 30, compared with $79 million in operating profits in the year-ago period. The company expects sales to be between $18.1 billion and $19.8 billion, which would represent a 15 percent to 26 percent gain over last year’s second-quarter sales.

Analysts pressed Szkutak about widening losses in international operations as well.

While international sales climbed 18 percent to $7.9 billion, operating losses hit $60 million, compared with a $16 million operating loss in the year-ago period. Szkutak chalked that up to Amazon’s expansion efforts.

“We’re investing heavily in China,” Szkutak said. “We’re investing heavily in new geographies, most notably Italy and Spain.”

Amazon also plans to invest in warehouses, a big expense in recent years. Though the earnings announcement didn’t include any details about Amazon’s warehouses, Szkutak said the company will continue to build new ones.

“We will be adding fulfillment capacity given the growth we’ve been experiencing,” Szkutak said.

He noted that Amazon now has 244 million active customer accounts. At the end of the first quarter, the company employed 124,600 workers, up 7,300 since the end of the year.

Szkutak also noted that the company’s new Fire TV streaming media device, unveiled on April 2 in New York, is selling well, noting that the company has worked hard to keep it in stock.

“The demand for Fire TV has been very strong,” he said. “The number of units we’ve sold has surpassed our expectations.”

Jay Greene: 206-464-2231 or jgreene@seattletimes.com. Twitter: greene



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