SAN FRANCISCO -- Amazon.com (AMZN) - Get Report wowed Wall Street by powering past estimates.

The Internet retailer reported losses of 23 cents a share, well ahead of the 29-cents-a-share loss analysts expected, according to

First Call

. In the previous quarter, losses were 30 cents per share, and in the year-earlier period the company reported losses of 7 cents per share.

Revenue for the first quarter was $293.6, up from $252.9 million in the fourth quarter. The company reported revenue of $87.4 million in the first quarter a year ago. Customer accounts grew to 8.4 million, up 35% from 6.2 million reported at the end of the fourth quarter.

The following was posted at 7 a.m. EDT.

SAN FRANCISCO --

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

may have good news when the company reports earnings after the markets close Wednesday. But it's likely to veer away from the big question: How are its new ventures helping to boost its business?

The company has been pouring cash into new ventures such as its auction business, its online drugstore and its portal for pet owners. Add to that list

Exchange.com

,

Accept.com

and

Alexa Internet

, companies which Amazon said Monday it will buy for a total of $645 million in stock. Because these endeavors are so new -- the auction site was launched in late March, and the investment in

drugstore.com

was made in February -- Wall Street probably won't be hearing much about how those ventures are impacting Amazon.

What investors will likely hear more about is the progress of Amazon's music store (launched last June) and video store (launched in November), as well as an update on their

Shop the Web

initiative launched in December. Shop the Web lets users search for a variety of products online.

But looking at the progress of these businesses should help investors glean how Amazon.com is faring with its strategy of expanding piecemeal into new retail markets. For Amazon, the backends of all these businesses are similar enough that -- advertising costs aside -- expansion isn't expensive.

The giant online retailer has already given some clues about its progress in gaining new customers in the first quarter. In recent press releases, Amazon.com has said that it has more than 8 million customers, up about 30% from the end of 1998. But because that number came out in the middle of the quarter, the actual number could be higher, says Sara Zeilstra of

Warburg Dillon Read

. Zeilstra, whose firm has no underwriting relationship with Amazon, rates the stock a hold.

Analysts were originally expecting the company to post flat-to-slightly-increased revenue from the fourth quarter's $252.9 million. Now expectations are much higher, in part because of the company's strong forecast for customer growth. Some analysts say privately that their unofficial estimates call for more than $300 million in first-quarter revenue. The

First Call

consensus estimates a loss of 29 cents a share for the quarter.

Revenue, not earnings, has been driving Amazon.com's stock higher. As long as the revenue keeps growing fast, the stock is likely to push higher, says William Schaff, chief investment officer at

Bay Isle Financial

, who owns Amazon.com in his

InformationTech 100

fund. The general investment thesis has been that "there's no need to look at anything else but revenue," says Schaff. "This is a revenue growth story."

At some point investors will expect to see profits, says Schaff. After announcing a smaller loss than expected for the fourth quarter of 1998, company CEO Jeff Bezos said the company would invest heavily in its system capacity, marketing and distribution, staffing and expansion into new areas. Since then, that expansion has included auctions, along with investments in drugstore.com and

pets.com

.

Not everyone is

convinced that an online drugstore or pet portal is the way to move the business ahead with revenue and profits. When individuals run out of toothpaste or detergent, they aren't going to go online and have it shipped to them, says Eric Linser, chief investment officer at

RSS Investment Counsel

, who holds no position in Amazon.com.

Those are the kinds of items that people don't plan ahead for. When you run out of toothpaste, he says, you'll have to run to the drugstore, not the computer. If they do plan ahead and want it shipped, it won't be cheap. Chances are, a 20-pound bag of dog food or a bottle of

Wisk

will cost more to ship than the cost of the food itself.