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Amazon credits Prime and Kindle Fire with driving Q2 sales of $12.8 billion; forecasts Q3 loss

Amazon credits Prime and Kindle Fire with driving Q2 sales of $12.8 billion; forecasts Q3 loss


Amazon earnings numbers for the second quarter of 2012: $12.8 billion in net sales, $107 million in operating income

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While the world awaits news of future smartphones, iPad-sized tablets, and same-day local delivery, Amazon continues to make billions of dollars in much the same way it always has: selling things on the internet.

On Thursday, Amazon reported an operating profit of $107 million on $12.83 billion in net sales. Last quarter, the company bagged $192 million on sales of $13.18 billion; a year ago (also a useful comparison, since retail sales are seasonal), it earned $201 million on sales of $9.91 billion. So even though it sold slightly less in the quarter, year-over-year, Amazon continues to grow like gangbusters: 29%, according to the official release. (Amazon also attributed a $65 million net loss to its acquisition of warehouse robot innovator Kiva Systems.)

"Amazon Prime is now the best bargain in the history of shopping — that is not hyperbole," said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, referring to Amazon's $79 annual membership program. Bezos highlighted 15 million items eligible for speedy Prime delivery, 18,000 streaming movies and TV episodes (most of those are individual TV episodes) on Prime Instant Video, and 170,000 e-books available through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, available to Prime subscribers who also own Kindles.

More details from Amazon's release accompanying its investor numbers:

  • Worldwide media sales of $4.12 billion;
  • North America sales of $7.33 billion — a solid year-over-year gain in the United States and Canada, even though $5.5 billion of Amazon's sales are now coming from overseas (a growth of 28% after taking into account changes in foreign exchange rates);
  • "Tens of thousands" of apps and games in its Android app store, which will expand to Europe this summer;
  • Kindle Fire remains Amazon's bestselling item, and its top ten bestselling products in the quarter were Kindles, e-books, and Kindle accessories.

In April, Amazon offered its usual wide guidance for this quarter, projecting net sales between $11.9 and $13.3 billion and operating income somewhere between a loss of $260 million and a profit of $40 million. Even though a truck could have driven through that range, these results are well above it. For the third quarter, too, Amazon is keeping its official guidance low, with net sales between $12.9 billion and $14.3 billion, and an operating loss between $50 and $350 million.

In fact, Amazon's always been able to do well on Wall Street despite low quarterly profits, mostly for three reasons:

  1. Its revenue growth has always been terrific;
  2. It consistently plows revenue back into high-growth tech and infrastructure for the company, which keeps its on-paper profits low;
  3. Jeff Bezos is a special CEO and Amazon is a special company.

That last part only reads like a joke. Under Bezos, Amazon has been one of the few big technology companies that's been able to continue to operate largely independently of Wall Street pressure for short-term profits, in no small part because of its track record and because investors have bought into Bezos' long-term vision.

Also, they're still hoping they'll see that new smartphone. We'll see whether anyone asks Amazon's team about it, or about that loss forecast for the next quarter, on the investor call at 2PM PT.

Note: Amazon's own numbers make it easy to compare year-over-year growth; here I wanted to compare Amazon's performance this quarter with its numbers from Q1:

Q1 2012 Q2 2012 % Change
Net sales $13.18b $12.8b -2.9%
North America 7.427 7.326m -1.35%
International 5.76m 5.5m -4.5%
Operating income 192m 107m -44%
Net income 130m 7m -94%

Update: This call stars Amazon CFO Tom Szkutak. Besides the numbers above, Szkutak touts 180 million customer accounts and 2 million seller accounts worldwide. Operating income year-over-year in the international segment increased 74% (again after taking into account changes in exchange rates, stupid strong dollar).

For next quarter, Szkutak says almost a billion dollars in continued investment in software and other infrastructure (particularly Amazon Web Services) and about $35 million in Kiva Systems is incorporated in the forecast. Amazon is also gearing up for the holiday season, and it's spending the money now.

Szkutak says Amazon hopes to gain productivity from Kiva Systems over time, but in the near-term its a loss. "It's still very early," he says. Szkutak avoids answering whether Kiva will be incorporated into existing centers, or new delivery centers only.

On new hardware, and hardware driving digital content sales: "We're very excited on both the hardware and content side of the business," Szkutak says. "We're super-excited about the roadmap that we have."

On investment in fulfillment centers and improving speed: "We're getting closer to customers, just with our wide, multi-node fulfillment network." So close!

NB: In response to a later question on same-day delivery: "We're always trying to get closer to customers… That's not new, it's been something we've been doing for years... We don't see a way to do same-day delivery on a broad scale economically." So there you have it.

Last year's Q2, Szkutak says, was Amazon's best international quarter ever, so we shouldn't be surprised that growth there is slowing. Also, the tsunami in Japan still is hurting parts of the supply business. The crappy economy in Europe can't help either.)

Remember, folks, Amazon sells a ton of electronics beisdes devices that say "Kindle." "Sales of "smartphones and tablets are a significant tailwind for our business," Szkutak says, although he doesn't want to break out numbers. Szkutak also talks up the benefits of having competitive sellers and competitive products on the site; not only does it expand the range of products Amazon can offer, it gives customers more choice on whom they'd like to buy from.

Szkutak closes by reminding everyone of the big investments Amazon is making in Q3 to get ready for the holiday quarter in Q4. "That's certainly impacting the bottom end of our projection." So a loss now to offset lots of money and products flying around in and around December.

And that's it.