Investors in Amazon.com (NasdaqGS: AMZN) were undoubtedly feeling a sense of déjà vu when the company reported its second-quarter results late Thursday, as Amazon yet again posted sharply higher sales and little profit.
During the quarter, Amazon’s net income plunged 96%, to just $7 million, or $0.01 a share. However, sales jumped 29%, to $12.83 billion. Profits missed the Street’s expectation of $0.02 a share, and revenue was also shy of the $12.9 billion that analysts were expecting.
The latest quarterly earnings from Amazon.com included $65 million of estimated net losses related to the acquisition of Kiva Systems Ltd., which makes robots that manage warehouse inventory. Operating profits, which exclude unusual items, slipped 46.8%, to $107 million from $201 million.
Rapid Expansion Could Lead to Losses at Amazon.com
For the third quarter, Amazon.com estimates that sales will rise 19% to 31% from the third quarter of 2011, to between $12.9 billion and $14.3 billion. However, it now expects to report an operating loss of between $350 million and $50 million, down from a profit of $79 million a year ago. Slim profits are an ongoing story at Amazon.com—but a forecast loss is unusual.
In the conference call, Amazon.com CFO Tom Szkutak pointed to higher spending related to the company’s ongoing expansion as it gets ready for the Christmas shopping season:
“In terms of capacity for example, we have announced 18 new fulfillment centers so far this year. We have actually opened six of those already this year, out of the 18. And we are looking at potentially opening even more than that. So those are certainly something impacting the cost so far, and you will be seeing that heavier in Q3 as we get ready for the most seasonal quarter [Q4].”
One bright spot was an increase of sales from third-party vendors on the company’s websites. In the quarter, these sales accounted for 40% of all goods sold, up from 36% a year ago. Amazon.com collects a commission on these sales, so they help improve its overall profit margins.
Amazon.com Is Gearing Up to Challenge Traditional Retailers
These new facilities are the main reason for the company’s rapidly growing workforce: In the past year alone, Amazon’s headcount has jumped more than 60%, to 60,000 employees.
But Amazon.com is looking far beyond Christmas 2012. It’s locating most of its 18 new warehouses close to major cities in a bid to speed up delivery to those areas. Being able to put goods in customers’ hands faster makes it even more competitive with brick-and-mortar retailers.
That had many wondering if Amazon.com is nearing the long-time dream of Internet companies around the world: same-day delivery. Not quite yet, according to Szkutak: “In terms of same-day, we don’t see a way to do that economically,” he said.
As Investing Daily editor Jim Fink pointed out in a recent article, one of the first casualties of a rapidly expanding Amazon.com could be housewares retailer Bed Bath & Beyond (NasdaqGS: BBBY), which recently issued a lower-than-expected earnings forecast for the second quarter amid shrinking margins and rising inventory.
Fink quotes a Wells Fargo analyst who neatly sums up the challenge retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond face from Amazon.com and other sites: “The specialty retail channel is losing share in the housewares category as selection and low prices have become more ubiquitous, particularly on the Internet,” he said.
Still, there are signs that investors could be growing impatient with Amazon.com. “It seems like a consistent story,” Sucharita Mulpuru of Forrester Research told MarketWatch.com. “Grow market share and don’t worry about earnings. They have the reach and scale that makes them now formidable, but when will they use that to grow more profitably?”
For now, however, the market is giving Amazon the benefit of the doubt. The stock is up 7% in the wake of the results, to $236.
Kindle Fire Still a Top Seller; Smartphone Reportedly in the Works
The company continues to see rising sales of media and electronic devices like its Kindle Fire tablet computer: Sales of content (including e-books and movies) rose 13% in the quarter, while electronic device sales jumped 38%. Amazon doesn’t break out sales of individual products like the Kindle, though it did say the device remained the bestselling item on Amazon.com.
The company is now reportedly working on its own smartphone. That may seem like a difficult proposition, given the hotly competitive market for these devices and the popularity of the Apple (NasdaqGS: AAPL) iPhone.
But even if an Amazon phone fails to attain the lofty heights of the iPhone, it would spur sales of the company’s content. That means a new phone could even work as a loss leader for Amazon, as Bloomberg’s Alexander Chernev writes:
“As is the case with its Kindle tablets, Amazon does not have to make money on its phone. Even if it is priced as a loss leader, it still might accomplish its goal of bringing new customers into the Amazon fold and enhancing the loyalty of existing ones.”What do you think of this article? Please post your feedback in the “comments” section below!
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