Will the third quarter be a charm for
The online retailing behemoth is scheduled to report quarterly results -- nope, no earnings yet, maybe next year -- after the close of trading Tuesday. And investors certainly hope things will go better than they did the last time around.
Back in June, Amazon's shares began to slide a month before the release of second-quarter results, when a handful of analysts warned that the company's revenue growth would increase only a bit from the previous quarter (a scathing
credit report didn't help matters).
Amazon's shares fell again when those predictions about slow revenue growth came true. And since then, the stock has come down another 25% or so, putting it 79% below its 52-week high of $113. Combined with the recent market turmoil, it's not the nicest backdrop against which to report results.
Same as last time, investors are focusing on the growth in revenue from quarter to quarter. This little statistic barely gets a glance in mature industries, where investors care much more about year-over-year growth. But e-commerce investors are obsessed with sequential growth because the valuations given these stocks are so dependent on continued stellar growth unfettered by things like seasonal dips in demand.
Analysts expect about $600 million in revenue from Amazon in the third quarter, which would mean sequential growth of about 4%. (Keep in mind that analysts have lowered their revenue expectations this year and once expected more from the third quarter.) In the past few weeks, some analysts have been talking about a possible upside to sales based on positive data on sales of books, music and videos from the
National Retail Federation
. That, combined with the natural propensity of the Street to actually expect companies to
estimates, means Amazon's sales will likely be considered disappointing unless they're well north of $600 million.
Analysts also expect that Amazon lost 33 cents a share in the third quarter. Some of that, they hope, will come on the back of improvements in the cost of fulfillment. "I know we'll see year-over-year improvement, but I'd like to see a substantial improvement," says Holly Guthrie, an analyst with
Janney Montgomery Scott
, who rates Amazon shares a sell. (Her firm hasn't done underwriting for Amazon.)
Fulfillment -- not usually the sexiest of topics -- has become a controversial issue since
analyst Lauren Cooks Levitan, who rates Amazon shares a long term attractive, earlier this month
issued a report claiming Amazon's efforts to sell so many different kinds of products mean a heavy -- and unprofitable -- reliance on multiple shipments for one order. (In an odd sort of analyst
Tom Wyman fired back with his own critique of Levitan's anecdotal research.) If Amazon shows an improvement in the cost of fulfillment, it could help put the issue to rest.
Investors also want to hear about the progress of Amazon's newer businesses, since it's unclear which categories, if any, will catch on enough to become big revenue centers. Amazon said at its September analyst day that its nascent consumer electronics business was the company's second-largest business (behind books) during the month. The company doesn't break out figures for its electronics business, but it's still a long way from the billion or so dollars in sales that it needs to be a meaningful competitor in the market, says Guthrie. Moreover, how is Amazon doing at efficiently managing all this new inventory?
Finally, Amazon will almost certainly face questions about the impact of difficulties at partner companies like
. Not only has Amazon had to reduce the payments that some of these companies are making in order to have tabs on its home page, but in many cases Amazon has seen the value of its direct investments plunge as e-tailers have gotten hammered. (Pets.com now trades at 50 cents a share.)
Perhaps more important than the third-quarter numbers will be any guidance the company gives about how prepared it is for the holiday season, since the fourth quarter last year accounted for 42% of Amazon's annual sales. Is it ready to meet the flood of orders? What are its marketing plans?
And, as always, any hint of when it will be profitable would be greatly appreciated.