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Amazon Earnings Preview: What to Watch

By Beth McKenna – Updated Apr 24, 2020 at 10:09AM

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Investors will soon learn how the coronavirus pandemic impacted the e-commerce giant's Q1 earnings. (AMZN 4.47%) is slated to report its first-quarter 2020 results after the market closes on Thursday, April 30.

Investors will likely be approaching the report with optimism tinged with some uncertainty. On the positive side, we know the tech giant's e-commerce sales should be very strong, driven by a huge increase in online shopping for essential products in March stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. On the other hand, the company has incurred significant expenses associated with its rapid ramp-up in capacity.

Amazon stock was already outperforming the market this year before the pandemic, thanks largely to the company's late January release of fourth-quarter 2019 results that crushed Wall Street's earnings expectation. The global health crisis has propelled the stock to an even greater outperformance. In 2020, shares are up 29.9%, while the S&P 500 (including dividends) has dropped 12.9% through Thursday, April 23.

Here's what to watch when Amazon reports.

Packages moving on a conveyor belt in an Amazon fulfillment center.

An Amazon fulfillment center. Image source: Getty Images.

Key quarterly numbers

Metric Q1 2019 Result Amazon's Q1 2020 Guidance Amazon's Projected Change YOY Wall Street's Q1 2020 Consensus Estimate Wall Street's Projected Change YOY (Decline)


$59.7 billion

$69 billion to $73 billion

15.6% to 22.3%

$72.95 billion


Adjusted earnings per share 






Data sources: and Yahoo! Finance. YOY = year over year. Wall Street estimates as of April 23. Note: Amazon does not provide earnings guidance. 

For the quarter, Amazon guided for operating income between $3 billion and $4.2 billion, representing a decline of 32% to 5% year over year.

However, there's a key thing to keep in mind: Amazon provided its revenue and operating income guidance on Jan. 30 when it released fourth-quarter and full-year 2019 results. That was nearly a month and a half before the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, and just nine days after the first confirmed case of the disease was reported in the United States. In other words, Amazon's guidance should be taken with a grain of salt because its management probably didn't foresee on Jan. 30 how dire the crisis would become, or at least how quickly it would blow up.

Keeping this in mind, why did Amazon guide for a year-over-year decline in operating income? Largely for the same reason it has done so in recent quarters: Over the last year, the company has been investing heavily in upgrading Prime's core free-delivery benefit from two days to one day. 

How the pandemic and the Prime delivery upgrade affected Q1 results

Hopefully, management provides good color on the earnings call about how it believes the pandemic impacted the quarter's top- and bottom-line results. That way, investors should get a feel for how the company's Prime delivery upgrade is affecting results. 

Ideally, management would share how the quarter's results were shaping up before the pandemic-driven surge in online shopping in March. 

New Prime members 

It would be great to learn how many new Prime members the company gained in the quarter. The pandemic likely drove more consumers to join Prime than might otherwise so they could get free, faster delivery.

A jump in Prime members should be a long-term positive since members have been found to spend much more money than nonmembers on the company's site.

Don't hold your breath, however. The company tends to be tight-lipped about its Prime member data. 

Amazon Web Services' overall growth

Investors should focus on growth, since this fast-growing segment is the company's profit engine. In Q4, AWS revenue soared 34% to $10 billion, or 11.4% of total revenue, while operating profit jumped 19% to $2.6 billion, or 67% of total operating profit.

Second-quarter guidance

The market is forward-looking, so its reaction to Amazon's report will probably hinge more on the company's Q2 outlook than on its Q1 results, relative to Wall Street's expectations. (Amazon provides guidance for revenue and operating income but not for earnings. The operating income outlook, however, gives investors a ballpark idea as to what year-over-year percentage change the company expects on the bottom line.)

For Q2, Wall Street analysts expect revenue to increase 22.9% year over year to $76.77 billion and adjusted earnings per share to rise 14.2% to $5.96. 

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Beth McKenna has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and recommends the following options: short January 2022 $1940 calls on Amazon and long January 2022 $1920 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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