NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Even though Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) beat first-quarter earnings estimates last night, the company's operating margins are still razor thin. Nonetheless, investor concerns have been alleviated. For now.
In the first quarter Amazon's operating margins came in at 1.45%, roughly stabilizing from 1.5% in the prior quarter. Wall Street was looking for operating margins of 0.9%, so while this is better than expected, it's still down sharply from 3.7% during the same period last year. Return on invested capital fell to 22% during the quarter, from 34% in the fourth quarter of 2010.
There were concerns that Amazon's consumer electronics strategy, with its Kindle Fire, would hurt margins even more as it competes with Google's (GOOG) Android operating system and Apple (AAPL - Get Report) in the hardware space. Those fears have been alleviated.
Despite margin concerns going into the quarter, several analysts upgraded Amazon as revenue has continued to accelerate better than most thought. Revenue rose 34% year-over-year to $13.2 billion, with non-GAAP earnings of 28 cents a share.Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Justin Post upgraded shares to "buy", as revenue outpaced expectations, led by 60% growth in third-party (3P) sellers. "We think Amazon remains well positioned to benefit from the long-term secular growth of eCommerce, and increasing use of mobile devices, and we expect the Street to continue to value stock on potential (not actual) margins," Post wrote, in his note. "With increasing spending, Amazon could miss third-quarter street margin estimates, but we think the stock can see positive returns over the next 6-8 months versus the $220 after-market price." This, according to Post, will be driven by accelerating growth in the second half of the year, new Kindle tablet launches, and optimism on 2013 margin expansion. The analyst raised his Amazon price target to $270, up from $235.
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