Amazon, Earnings, and Analyst "Estimates"


For yet another example of how inane the impact of analyst estimates can be, look no further than's stock price movement after announcing its Q4 and 2012 year-end earnings. In what was clearly a case of a knee-jerk reaction by the market, the bottom fell out of's stock price -- dropping nearly 6% during the trading day -- because it "missed estimates."

Thankfully, investors now have an alternative: after-hours trading. For those willing to take some time, dig through the financials, and get to the heart of the matter, after-hours trading is an opportunity to act on the questions that should have been asked during the trading day. Is the company growing? Are the key matrices used to gauge success being met, or exceeded?

The facts
Both domestic and international sales results soared in's critical Q4, to over $12 billion in North America, and $9 billion overseas -- both up over 20% compared to the year-ago quarter. Well, those numbers sound pretty good, right? Apparently, the $21.27 billion in sales for the quarter, and $61 billion for the year, fell short of expectations by about $1 billion. Um, sorry?'s sales results look even better compared to the overall retail environment in the recently-completed holiday season. For most retailers, online or brick-and-mortar, 2012 ended with little more than a whimper. The retail industry was hoping for a bit more than the 14 % year-over-year improvement in sales seen during the period, but shoppers were hesitant to loosen their purse strings. But here's the thing;'s revenues jumped 22% in Q4, easily outpacing the industry as a whole.

A look at's operating income really blows away analysts' notion of a "disappointing quarter." For the year,'s operating income jumped 56%, and cash flow also increased compared to 2011. Also,'s objective of lowering transportation expenses, thereby improving margins, by building strategically-located distribution centers, is finally beginning to pay off. In North America, margins skyrocketed to 5%, from 3% in Q4 2011. According to Amazon .com CFO Tom Szkutak, it will continue "...adding capacity during 2013," which should continue to positively impact margins.

To be fair to the analysts, not all Amazon's news was positive. Net income, though up from Q3, took a significant hit in's fiscal Q4 compared to last year, dropping 45%, to $97 million , well below analyst estimates . Expenses associated with its investments in distribution centers, and plopping down $1.4 billion for office space and property in the Seattle, Wa. area, affected's bottomline.

After hours, and after earnings
So, what does it say that's share price jumped nearly 9% following the trading day's sell-off? After further review, is doing just fine, thanks to Bezos' commitment to making it much, much more than the world's biggest online retailer. What sets apart from its competitors, and why it's worthy of a 9% jump in after-hours share price, is its diversified business units and revenue streams.

For online streaming video, Netflix is an obvious investment alternative; and it's also one of the most volatile stocks on the planet. In the last week alone, Netflix shares have gone from $97 a share, to nearly $170! The good news is, Netflix's run is based on a solid earnings report; but who needs that kind of craziness in a portfolio?'s Prime service is a legitimate player in the streaming video marketplace, and now it's even shifting into developing its own content.

If you recognize the opportunity cloud computing presents -- a possible $241 billion industry by 2020's got you covered there, too. At a recent industry event in Las Vegas, SVP Andy Jassy specifically called out cloud behemoth IBM as a target of its low-cost cloud computing alternative, redshift. Taking on IBM, particularly now when it's clearly focused on aggressively growing its own cloud revenues, may seem a bit much. But with customers including Netflix and Samsung, AWS is a serious player, and going head-to-head with IBM is warranted.

The moral of the story
Don't get me wrong, analysts serve an important function; at least, that's what I've been told the past 20+ years. But at what point do you consider it wasn't that missed estimates, it was the analysts? After hours.

Everyone knows Amazon is the big bad wolf in the retail world right now, but at its sky-high valuation, some investors are worried it's the company's share price that will get knocked down instead of competitors'. We'll tell you what's driving the company's growth, and fill you in on reasons to buy and reasons to sell Amazon in our new premium report. Our report also has you covered with a full year of free analyst updates to keep you informed as the company's story changes, so click here now to read more.

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Fool contributor Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of, International Business Machines., and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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