Amazon Q4 sales, earnings beat expectations; outlook disappoints

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Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud computing division, reported a 45 per cent jump in the fourth quarter to hit US$7.43 billion in sales. Global revenue came in a touch above expectations, too.

Additionally, the company's net income increased to $3.0 billion United States dollars (roughly $3.94 billion CAD) in Q4 2018, compared to $1.9 billion USD (roughly $2.49 billion CAD) in Q4 2017.

Amazon shares bounced around in after-hours trading on Thursday after the e-commerce giant reported better-than-expected revenue and earnings in its crucial holiday quarter, but a lukewarm sales forecast tempered the market's reaction. That brings Amazon's total revenue for the year up to $232.9 billion. The catch is that it took Amazon North America $141.4 billion of sales for that operating income and AWS needed $25.65 billion.

"Amazon's Q4 was impressive on multiple fronts, with the strength of AWSalmost becoming a "broken record" as it continued to generate nearly geometric sales growth with still-high margins, more than offsetting investment-impacted worldwide operating losses", said Charlie O'Shea, lead analyst for Amazon at Moody's.

Amazon's "other" business segment - consisting mainly of its fast-growing advertising business - generated almost $3.8 billion in sales in the quarter, up 97 percent. Sales from Amazon's physical shops - from Whole Foods to its bookstores and Amazon Go - were down three per cent, though Whole Foods saw six per cent growth in revenue when you adjusted for overlapping financial quarters. He added, "I will be interested to see how AWS's recently announced AI PaaS and SaaS services fare as they appear quite compelling".

Amazon's "other" businesses, which is mostly online advertising, funnily enough, amounted to $3.4bn, up 95 per cent. Amazon's full-year 2018 profit - $10.1 billion - is more than triple the year-earlier result.

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Still, Olsavsky said, "India remains a good long-term opportunity". That includes expanded sponsor brand placement and improved campaign manager features, he said.

Amazon's voice-controlled virtual assistant Alexa, and the devices which play it, helped the performance.

The company in October predicted weak revenue for the holiday quarter - its biggest quarter of the year - though Olsavsky at the time said he expected "a strong holiday season". "Echo Dot was the best-selling item across all products on Amazon globally, and customers purchased millions more devices from the Echo family compared to a year ago", Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, said in a statement.

The number of research scientists working on Alexa has more than doubled in the past year, he noted.

Amazon expects to start 2019 with quarterly sales of $56 billion to $60 billion, up 10 percent to 18 percent.

EPS came in at $6.04 on revenue of $72.4 billion, compared to expectations of $5.65 per share on $71.61 billion in revenue.

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