Amazon’s big spending on one-day delivery dents profit, forecast

Amazon.com Inc.’s quarterly results were marred by a surge in costs tied to its one-day delivery push, worrying investors who had grown accustomed to almost two straight years of fattening profits.

Moving millions of products closer to customers to enable one-day delivery proved more costly and complicated than expected, driving up expenses and reducing efficiency in the second quarter, Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said Thursday on a conference call. The investment will put a strain on earnings for the rest of the year, but has already spurred consumers to buy more on Amazon’s website and helped revenue growth rebound, he said.

“It does create a shock to the system now,” Olsavsky said of the speedier delivery effort. “We’ll work through that over the next several quarters and when the dust settles, we’ll return to increased efficiency.”

The Seattle-based company announced in April that it would spend $800 million to quicken delivery times for its best customers, a response to competition from rivals like Walmart Inc. Amazon’s spending in the past three months ended a six-quarter streak of increased profits from its North American e-commerce business that had fueled investor enthusiasm.

The company reported second-quarter profit was $5.22 per share, missing analysts’ average estimate of $5.56 a share. Revenue increased 20%, to $63.4 billion, Amazon said in a statement. Analysts, on average, estimated $62.5 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company also said operating income in the current quarter will be $2.1 billion to $3.1 billion, well shy of analyst estimates of $4.34 billion.

The third quarter is the period when Amazon typically invests in its facilities for the busy holiday shopping season at the end of the year, so big spending on the one-day shipping initiative spooked investors, said RJ Hottovy, analyst at Morningstar Inc.

“The company’s been pretty upfront about investing in one-day shipping,” he said. “This is their heaviest investment period of the year, so it’s when we’re most likely to see a pull back.”

Amazon’s spending growth in the second quarter accelerated across the board, including for marketing to promote the annual Prime Day sale and on technology and content, which includes money for engineers and video programming. Operating expenses increased 21% to $60.3 billion in the period ended June 30, a faster pace than revenue. Shipping costs increased 36%, to $8.13 billion.

While e-commerce remains Amazon’s biggest source of sales, other businesses such as cloud computing, logistics for online merchants and advertising are growing faster and now generate almost half of the company’s quarterly revenue. In addition to greater competition, Amazon faces increasing scrutiny from government antitrust regulators and lawmakers who argue Amazon acts like a monopoly to dominate online shopping. The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday it was opening a broad antitrust review into whether big technology companies are using their power to blunt competition.

“Regulator risk is the No. 1 risk for the big tech companies, including Amazon,” said Tom Forte, an analyst at DA Davidson & Co.

Amazon shares declined about 1.5% in extended trading after closing at $1,973.82. The stock has gained 31% this year, pushing the company’s market value near the $1 trillion mark it surpassed briefly last September.

Amazon Web Services sales increased 37% to $8.38 billion in the second quarter, missing analyst estimates of $8.5 billion. Cloud computing is one of Amazon’s most profitable businesses, fueling investments in other parts of the company.

Despite the disappointing profit outlook, Amazon has a track record of making long-term investments that ultimately pay off, said Ron Josey, an analyst at JMP Securities.

“They’ve got some growing pains on one-day, but they’re managing that pretty well,” he said. “That can only be a good thing longer-term, and, frankly, that’s how I think the market will be looking at it.”

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.