The Seattle tech behemoth said Thursday that it earned shareholders some $857 million, or $1.78 per share, for the quarter ending in June, up from 19 cents in the same quarter last year. The results surpassed Wall Street expectations of $1.11 per share.
In a blockbuster financial quarter, Amazon.com has turned the clout it acquired after years of big investments in a global retail empire and in cloud computing into what seems to be a tide of profitability long awaited by its shareholders.
The Seattle tech behemoth said Thursday that it had a profit of $857 million, or $1.78 per share, for the quarter ending in June, up from 19 cents in the same quarter last year. It widely surpassed Wall Street’s already rosy estimates of $1.11 per share. Amazon’s market value soared past $360 billion as shares traded at $767.80, up 2.0 percent, after the stock market closed the regular trading day.
Most important, it was the fifth straight profitable quarter Amazon has reported. It’s a sign to investors that perhaps a company known for surprising them with losses as it reinvested proceeds from its sales now has the scale and operational leanness to consistently turn a tidy profit.
Analysts have said that thanks to the profitability of its cloud computing unit, Amazon Web Services (AWS), the company is more likely to post net profit even though it keeps making big bets.
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Thursday’s results reinforce that theory, as AWS brought in more than half of the company’s operating income, or $718 million. In contrast, the North American retail segment posted $702 million in operating income, and the international segment a $135 million loss.
In a conference call with analysts and investors, Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky cited another reason for the ramp-up in operating income. He said that Amazon’s business model, which executives often describe as a flywheel where every segment reinforces the others, benefits from being big.
For example, the more items move through its warehouses, the cheaper the cost of the warehouses are per unit. The more logistics capabilities it has, from planes to highly automated fulfillment centers to relationships with truck companies providing last-mile deliveries, the cheaper it is to ship its items and also to offer the service to third-party sellers.
The amount of merchandise that goes through its sinews is greatly augmented by the millions of subscribers it has managed to lure into its Prime loyalty program, strengthening Amazon’s lead as the dominant e-commerce player.
“Competitive moats around Amazon are only getting deeper,” thanks to its unmatched scale, said Alan Robinson, global portfolio manager at RBC Wealth Management.
In Amazon’s words, the company’s performance during the quarter saw “very strong operating efficiencies,” Olsavsky told analysts. Operating margins as a percentage of global sales rose to 4.2 percent for the quarter from a year ago.
That said, it’s also a matter of timing for the major investments for which Amazon is known. Olsavsky warned that next quarter will see a big increase in fulfillment capacity, with 18 new warehouses opening (vs. six last year) and a doubling of spending on video content in the second half of the year from last year.
The huge acceleration in deployment of fulfillment capacity responds to the hiccups that Amazon ran into during the past holiday quarter, in which its warehouses had a hard time coping with a higher-than-expected number of shipments.
The company said it expects to post between $50 million and $650 million in operating income in the third quarter, down from $1.28 billion in the second, a guidance that incorporates these increased investments.
Robinson, the RBC analyst, acknowledges that “five quarters of profitability in a row would imply that profitability is here to stay.”
However, historically Amazon’s management has had plenty of leeway from shareholders to act on big opportunities and Robinson doesn’t see that changing. “We cannot rule out increasing expenditures,” he said.
Another take-away from the earnings report is that no matter how big Amazon’s retail segment has become, it’s getting bigger, faster.
Revenue, at $30.4 billion, is up 31 percent from last year. Analysts on average estimated that Amazon would bring in $29.55 billion in sales.
Sales in North America rose 28 percent to $17.7 billion, an acceleration from last year’s 26 percent. International sales rose 30 percent vs. 3 percent in the same quarter last year.
AWS and its strong growth is still in its early stages, analysts say, as many corporations and institutions have yet to migrate their hoards of data and computing needs to the cloud, of which Amazon is the leading provider. Net sales for AWS reached $2.9 billion, up 58 percent from the same quarter last year.
Amazon’s rapid workforce expansion continues. At the end of June it had nearly 270,000 employees, up from 183,000 a year ago.