Amazon.com beats expectations

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The Independent Online

Third-quarter sales at Amazon.com were up 79 percent from a year ago, helping the company report a smaller loss than Wall Street was expecting.

Third-quarter sales at Amazon.com were up 79 percent from a year ago, helping the company report a smaller loss than Wall Street was expecting.

For the three-month period ending 30 September, Amazon.com lost $240.5 million, or 68 cents per share. In the year-ago period, the online retailing giant lost $197.1 million, or 59 cents per share, the company said.

Revenue rose to $637.9 million from $355.8 million a year ago.

Excluding certain items such as amortization of goodwill, stock-based compensation and acquisition-related costs, Amazon.com had pro forma losses of $89.4 million, or 25 cents per share, compared with a loss of $85.8 million, or 26 cents per share in the year-ago period.

Wall Street analysts had been expecting a pro forma loss of 33 cents per share, according to First Call/Thomson Financial.

Company officials credited increased internal efficiencies with the shrinking loss.

"I'm surprised by the numbers," said Gene Alvarez, an electronic commerce analyst with the META Group. "They got the 'e' part of e-commerce right, and it's nice to see them focus on the commerce part."

Although shares of Amazon.com went up as much as $1.50 earlier in the day, they closed down 44 cents to $29.56 on the Nasdaq Stock Market. In after-hours trading, shares rose to $32.63.

"This was a strong quarter for Amazon.com," said Warren Jenson, the company's chief financial officer. "We are driving toward profitability and we surpassed our key internal operational and financial objectives."

Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos noted that its new businesses, such as electronics, toys, computer games, garden tools and kitchenware, were thriving. The company's electronics business is now the second-largest section of Amazon.com, just behind the original books division in sales.

"The new product categories work. It's as simple as that," said Bezos, noting that some Wall Street analysts had thought otherwise. "It's very, very clear that these businesses are growing, and growing rapidly."

The company also revealed that the Securities and Exchange Commission had asked for details about its Amazon Commerce Network, which represents partner companies who pay Amazon.com for a presence on its popular Web site.

The SEC questioned Amazon's accounting procedures for transactions, and Amazon.com said it was cooperating, though the company added that it believed it had done nothing wrong.

Going into the fourth quarter, where Amazon.com usually sees a major holiday sales surge, the company tried to reassure investors by noting it had $900 million in cash and short-term assets on hand - more than enough to get it through 2001.

Still, Amazon.com will spend some $200 million between now and March 31 to ensure it keeps its holiday record for deliveries intact. Last year, over 99 percent of its holiday shipments arrived before the holidays.

After that, Bezos said the company will be "cash-flow positive," meaning that although there will be losses, there will be enough money coming in through regular operations to keep the company running.

It's the last hurdle before outright profitability, which Bezos and Jenson still refuse to comment on.

Bezos said the company is "really excited about Christmas," and is working to expose the breadth of its product offerings to its customers. Bezos noted that only 21 percent of Amazon.com customers had bought something other than books, music or videos on the site.

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, Amazon.com lost $866.1 million, or $2.48 per share, on revenue of $1.79 billion. In the year-ago period, the company lost $396.8 million, or $1.23 per share, on revenue of $963.8 million.

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