SAN FRANCISCO -- Amazon.com (AMZN) - Get Report reported stronger-than-expected first-quarter results, vowed that more aggressive spending is on the way and said it's searching for a chief operating officer and a new chief financial officer.
Excluding M&A-related charges, the leading Internet retailer reported a pro-forma loss of $36.4 million, or 23 cents a share, smaller than the 29 cents-a-share loss that analysts had expected, according to
. Including charges, the first-quarter net loss was $61.7 million, or 39 cents a share. Revenue was $293.6 for the first quarter, up from $252.9 million in the fourth quarter. In the same quarter a year ago, Amazon.com reported revenue of $87.4 million and a loss of 7 cents per share.
The new COO position, once filled, will free up CEO Jeff Bezos from some daily operations, Bezos said during a conference call. The current CFO is Joy Covey, who will become chief strategist, where she will work on expanding the company's services and operations.
"We've been constrained most by people bandwidth," said Bezos, who gave out contact information for any prospective candidates. During the Q&A,
Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette
analyst Jamie Kiggen joked that Amazon should have placed help-wanted ads its new auction site.
New ventures, including auctions, will not likely contribute to revenue growth in the second quarter, said Covey. Merger- and investment-related costs, however, will rise because of recent acquisitions. "It's highly likely that guidance will be a moving target," said Covey.
Analysts showed a growing ambivalence about Amazon.com's expansion plans. "On the one hand, I would like to see a near-term focus on profitability," says
Volpe Brown Whelan
analyst Derek Brown. "On the other hand, demand is swelling for this company. And there's a belief that this company is building the retailing franchise of the next century." Brown, whose firm has no underwriting relationship with the company, rates the stock a buy.
Expansion means nearly every corner of Amazon's business: In capacity and systems expansion, in brand and marketing and in products and services. The company recently began shipping products from a Nevada shipping facility and leased a distribution center in Kansas. Amazon intends to add even more facilities.
"They're spending more aggressively than originally anticipated," says Sara Zeilstra, an analyst at
Warburg Dillon Read
. "And they've made it clear they're spending a lot of time and a lot of money to have a highly mechanized distribution and fulfillment operation."
That aggressive spending ahead of demand is going to start coming though as lower gross margins as the costs increase, says Zeilstra, who rates the stock hold and whose firm has no underwriting relationship with Amazon.com. "There will be some inefficiencies in these centers" until they are fully up and running, she says. "But I'd rather they have too much capacity than not enough."
Along with the aggressive spending, losses ($61.7 million) as a percentage of sales ($293.6 million) rose to 21%. That's up from and 12% in the first quarter of last year. Excluding M&A charges, losses accounted for 10% of sales, down from 11% in the same quarter a year ago.
In previous quarters, the company has broken out figures for individual businesses such as music and video sales. Bezos said he wouldn't this quarter "for competitive reasons." Brown believes that despite their silence, Amazon.com is the No. 1 book, music, and video retailer online.
Customer accounts grew to 8.4 million, up 35% from 6.2 million reported at the end of the fourth quarter. Repeat customer orders represented more than 66% of orders during the first quarter.
The stock lost 6% Wednesday to end at 193 1/2 and was down as far as 177 in after-hours trading. Such a post-market decline could reflect profit-taking, which has been common in the wake of Internet earnings announcements this season. Or it could reflect a growing disenchantment with Net stocks.
"Amazon is a great company, but at what point do you say enough is enough?" asks one frustrated money manager from a smallish firm who said he already made his money off of the e-tailer. "It's all over now. If you want to short them, you should short them now."