Amazon, as most everyone will know by now, has just released its 4Q2015 quarterly results. And the markets duly rewarded its largest ever profit, and third consecutively profitable quarter, with a 13 percent share slide.
What disappointed the markets, according to analysis, was the $1 earnings per share figure, versus an anticipated $1.56, and a 22 percent year-on-year increase in revenue to $35.75 billion, just a few critical dollars short of the $35.9 billion expected by Wall Street. Against these numbers, Amazon’s record quarterly profit of $482 million apparently counted for little.
So should Amazon fans everywhere be worried? Does this mean the $50 Fire really is a drag on revenues after all? And what does all this say about the direction of Amazon’s business?
Jeff Bezos crowed, in the earnings release, that “this year, we pass $100 billion in annual sales and serve 300 million customers.” Yet he didn’t participate in the ensuing IR exercises. Whether Amazon could have gotten a better response from the markets with a more dynamic earnings call – led by Bezos instead of CFO Brian Olsavsky – is all so much spilt milk now. Certainly, one critic said: “Apparently Bezos never does the earnings call. Today might have been a good time to start.”
Amazon is obviously scoring no points for good investor relations, and probably should learn the discipline, rather than delivering earnings calls dismissed as “mostly useless and boring, with no additional information.” The ensuing slide, whether a blip or not, still knocked $24 billion off Amazon’s value, even though 9 percent of that 13 percent slide been added prior to the results by feverish speculation on its stock. A company that feverishly reinvested its income on expansion and new services until very recently maybe needs to keep an eye on its market value, which after all, also translates into creditworthiness, stock as acquisition currency, and all the other financial ingredients potentially needed to power further development.
For now, that short-term share switchback is distracting attention from some other significant numbers, and juicy nuggets in the earnings release. Amazon Web Services, a leading profit driver, grew 69 percent since the same quarter last year, to $2.4 billion, ahead of investor expectations of $2.38 billion. There’s also no sign in the figures that the low cost of the $50 Fire tablet. which “has been the #1 best-selling, most gifted, and most wished-for product across all items available on Amazon.com since its introduction 19 weeks ago,” has been any kind of drag on overall performance and profits.
What could raise concerns for the future direction of Amazon’s business is fulfillment costs. These amounted to $4.5 billion for the quarter, up 33 percent year-on-year. Since those are both rising faster than the revenue increase, and are linked to Amazon’s rising Prime memberships. Amazon announced that “in 2015, worldwide paid Prime memberships increased 51% — 47% in the U.S. and even faster outside the U.S.” And if so, Amazon had better hope that their loyalty and higher spending on Amazon products and services is going to offset the costs of meeting their expectations.
Is this a warning sign for Kindle fans and Amazon’s book-buying public, whether print or digital? Overall, the growth figures still look attractive. Furthermore, fulfillment cost is hardly a significant factor for Kindle Store customers downloading their ebooks, and is unlikely to cut directly into service levels or expansion plans for them. Yet Amazon may have to look a lot harder at the costs of delivering on its ambitious fulfillment plans for Prime members and others, whether buying books or soap powders. Oh, and learn more about keeping sweet with the Street.