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Amazon.com posts surprise 4Q revenue miss

Thu, 01/27/2011 - 1:05pm

Amazon.com uncharacteristically missed Wall Street's revenue target in the fourth quarter, sending the stock tumbling 9 percent and showing that not all Internet companies benefited equally from the holiday shopping season.

The results from the world's biggest online retailer highlight the unevenness of retail's recovery, as people have picked up their spending after the official end of the Great Recession but are being picky about what they buy.

Expectations were high, especially since other consumer-oriented technology companies, such as Google Inc. and Netflix Inc., wowed Wall Street with their results.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos noted that the company hit two important milestones in the quarter: cracking $10 billion in quarterly revenue for the first time, and selling more electronic books for Amazon's hot-selling Kindle device than paperbacks.

Still, the revenue miss jolted investors, signaling that expectations were running too hot for a company whose stock price had jumped nearly 75 percent since its 52-week low of $105.80 in July.

After the results were reported Thursday, Amazon shares fell $16.18, or 8.8 percent, to $168.27 in extended trading.

Net income was $416 million, or 91 cents per share. Analysts expected 88 cents per share according to FactSet. In the same period the previous year, Amazon earned $384 million, or 85 cents per share.

Revenue jumped 36 percent to $12.95 billion, but analysts were expecting $13.02 billion.

The company's first-quarter guidance of $9.1 billion to $9.9 billion in revenue was in line with analyst projections of $9.32 billion.

Amazon continues to be tightlipped about its hottest seller - the Kindle.

The device has now become the best-selling item in Amazon's 16-year history, but the company has not given specifics, other than that sales have been in the "millions." The device starts at $139.

The Kindle's rise has coincided with big shifts in the electronics industry that are forcing retailers to rethink their strategies.

Amazon has taken pains to paint the market for e-readers as additive to the overall computer market, even as evidence mounts that mobile gadgets - particularly Apple Inc.'s iPad tablet - are forcing people to think twice about how they spend their technology dollars. Apple has sold nearly 15 million iPads since they went on sale in April.

The changing dynamics of the electronics world hit retailers this holiday season.

For instance, Best Buy Co., the largest U.S. electronics chain, is picking up strong tablet and e-reader sales, but TVs and laptops have slumped.

The economic malaise continues to depress retail spending.

Holiday spending in the U.S. reached the highest level on record last year at $462 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, but would have been below pre-recession levels if inflation were factored in.

Because of Amazon's reach - the Seattle-based company shipped to 178 countries over the holidays - its results affect a swath of industries, from retailing to manufacturing to shipping. UPS and FedEx, for example, depend on online retailers such as Amazon to feed their pipelines during the busiest shipping days of the year.

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