As Amazon Invests in Growth, Wall St. Willing to Wait
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The Fiscal Times
July 27, 2012

Facebook’s earnings announcement Thursday afternoon (FB) topped analysts’ official expectations, but the stock is still getting pummeled anyway, down about 14 percent. Earlier this week, Apple’s quarterly earnings fell far short of analysts’ expectations. That stock also got punished, falling more than 4 percent the next day. Then there’s Amazon.com (AMZN). Despite posting earnings yesterday that fell just shy of analysts’ forecasts, the stock has responded quite nicely, thank you. It’s up more than 7 percent today.

Why? Wall Street may doubt Facebook’s continued ability to grow, or its ability to monetize users who are increasingly moving to mobile devices. It may wonder if Apple can sustain its high margins and astounding dominance. But Amazon is again promising to deliver in the future – and, for now at least, Wall Street appears willing to believe it.

The uber-online retailer reported on Thursday that profits for the second quarter were 96 percent below year-earlier levels – only $7 million. And it forecast an operating loss as high as $350 million for the current quarter as it invests in building out its network of order-fulfillment centers. It has opened six so far this year and plans to open 12 more, the company’s chief financial officer, Thomas Szkutak, told analysts on the earnings conference call.

“Our operating expenses are growing at a faster rate than revenue,” the company’s chief financial officer, Szkutak said. “It’s a number of areas, including our fulfillment expense line item, marketing, as well as technology and content. We’re investing across the business.”

The company always has operated with margins that redefine the phrase “razor thin”; investors have shrugged that off. And they showed today that they are still willing to wait as Amazon works to extend its lead on online retailing without focusing on profitability, at least in the near term.

Amazon has perhaps earned that patience by showing it is capable of going against the current market trend by growing the top line: While most other S&P 500 companies are generating higher earnings on a lower revenue base, Amazon announced a nearly 30 percent jump in revenue even as its earnings contracted.

Investors, it seems are still willing to listen to Amazon execs when they explain these setbacks are just temporary – the price that they need to pay in order to invest in everything from the “cloud,” where all kinds of e-book and other digital content now reside, to fulfillment centers. With today’s 7 percent advance sending shares about $235, the stock is again approaching its 52-week high.

Business journalist Suzanne McGee spent more than 13 years at The Wall Street Journal before turning to freelance writing. Author of the book Chasing Goldman Sachs, she has written for Barron’s, The Financial Times, and Institutional Investor.