The past two earnings releases have not been kind to Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) shareholders, myself included.
Third time's the charm?
Both the e-tailer's third- and fourth-quarter results were eerily familiar, even leading to a feeling of deja vu for this Fool. Even though Amazon has been upfront with its guidance and its plans to reinvest heavily into infrastructure, shares sold off as if investors were blindsided.
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Even though Amazon's bottom line last quarter came in well ahead of the market's expectations, its ominous-sounding guidance spooked investors. The company said first-quarter operations could result in anywhere from a $200 million operating loss to a positive $100 million in operating income. The midpoint of guidance would be a $50 million operating loss, so the market ignored the EPS beat and sent shares lower to the tune of 8%.
It's worth pointing out that the guidance provided in the third quarter was almost the exact same. That time around, fourth-quarter operations were expected to yield either a $200 million operating loss to a positive $250 million in operating income. Turns out that fourth-quarter operating income came in at $260 million, topping the high end of guidance.
So as we brace ourselves for first-quarter earnings, will Amazon again show that it was simply being conservative and post strong figures? Even if it does, will it again forecast potential red ink in the coming quarter and send investors fleeing? These are excellent questions that will be answered tomorrow.
Can I get your digits?
The Street is looking for sales of $12.9 billion, with earnings per share of just $0.08. Amazon's own revenue guidance expects a range of $12 billion to $13.4 billion, which would represent as much as 36% top-line growth.
The company recently acquired Kiva Systems, which makes some amazing automatons for use in sorting facilities, and also set up AmazonSupply to cater to yet another segment -- the industrial supply market, leveraging the 2005 acquisition of SmallParts.
We're No. 2! We're No. 2!
Sales of the Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android-powered Kindle Fire will probably see a sequential drop coming out of the holiday quarter, although don't expect any specific numbers on the matter. Instead, look forward to some vague terms like "best-selling" and "millions."
Although in fairness, "best-selling" really does apply to the Kindle Fire, even beyond the context of just Amazon, as the Kindle Fire is the best-selling Android tablet. IHS iSuppli estimates that Amazon quickly grabbed 14.3% of the tablet market in the fourth quarter, knocking down Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPad dominance by nearly 7%.
Amazon also recently announced its intention to begin offering "in-app" purchases, just like Apple and Google. This "freemium" model has taken off in popularity lately, as developers forgo upfront costs in favor of trying to sell virtual goods once users are hooked, which is precisely what Zynga (Nasdaq: ZNGA ) banks on. That should help Amazon further monetize the Kindle Fire, which it sells near cost.
Meanwhile, it's hoping to regain its ability to discount e-books if the government's antitrust suit against Apple turns out favorably.
Prove me wrong
Even the low end of guidance calls for revenue to grow by 22%, which is being driven by Amazon's investments in its business and its foray into new markets. Focusing on temporary decreases in operating and net incomes is shortsighted, because the long-term result of those moves is the continued growth of the business, including into international markets.
Last quarter, international sales chalked up 43% of revenue, while growing 29% excluding favorable currency fluctuations. North American sales growth continues to outpace at 37%, but both segments continue to show strong gains.
I'm half-expecting a sell-off tomorrow, even if the results come out strong, simply because of how investors have reacted for the past two quarters. I hope I'll be proved wrong.
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