Amazon sales outlook disappoints after record holiday quarter

The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves, France January 19, 2019. — Reuters pic
The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves, France January 19, 2019. — Reuters pic

NEW YORK, Feb 1 — Amazon.com Inc yesterday forecast first-quarter sales below Wall Street estimates as new regulations in India created uncertainty around one of its key growth markets, dimming the online retailer's report of record holiday season profit.

Shares of the company fell 1.7 per cent to US$1,690 (RM6,936) after the bell.

Amazon posted a 63 per cent jump in net income to US$3.03 billion for the fourth quarter, ahead of analysts' estimates.

The company has used fast shipping and streaming video to attract shoppers, creating an e-commerce powerhouse. Fees merchants pay Amazon to ship and advertise their products have fattened the company's once-thin profit margins.

Yet investors turned their attention abroad where Amazon has long lost money in the hopes of future profit. Though its operating loss shrunk to US$642 million from US$919 million in the quarter, rules in India created concern. These disallow companies from selling products via vendors in which they have an equity interest.

Brian Olsavsky, Amazon's chief financial officer, said on a call with reporters, the “situation in India is a bit fluid right now.”

“There's a bit of uncertainty,” he said, adding that Amazon's goal is to minimise the impact on its customers and sellers. "India remains a good long-term opportunity,” he said.

The company began removing a wide array of products from its India website late yesterday to comply with the new foreign investment curbs that kick in on Feb. 1, Reuters reported.

The company forecast net sales of between US$56 billion and US$60 billion for the first quarter, missing the analyst average estimate of US$60.77 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Olsavsky said the guidance includes two percentage points of negative impact from changes in currency exchange rates.

Overall, net sales for the fourth quarter rose 19.7 per cent to US$72.38 billion and beat the analyst average estimate of US$71.87 billion on the back of a strong holiday season, which includes the major US shopping event Black Friday.

“Amazon continued its relentless assault on the high street over Christmas,” Nicholas Hyett, Equity Analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown said.

Net sales in North America, its biggest market, jumped 18.3 per cent to US$44.12 billion in the reported quarter. International revenue came in a touch above expectations, too.

Amazon said tens of millions of shoppers signed up for Prime during the season, helping boost revenue from subscription fees 25 percent to US$4 billion. The company has more than 100 million Prime members globally.

This expansive customer base has lured merchants to sell goods on the company's marketplace, to the point where more than half of products sold on Amazon came from third parties earlier last year.

Making Amazon more profitable still are ad sales. The company now ranks alongside Alphabet Inc's Google and Facebook Inc as titans in marketing, letting these same merchants pay for high placement in Amazon's search results.

Ad sales and “other” revenue jumped 95 per cent to US$3.4 billion in the fourth quarter. — Reuters

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