Amazon’s expansive list of highlights that contributed to record fourth-quarter profits is a handy reminder of its various interests. Alongside the grocery chain Whole Foods and its cloud computing service Amazon Web Services, the company gave a shout out to businesses as disparate as Amazon Fashion, Amazon Studios, the doorbell detector Ring and the delivery network Amazon Air.
The thread that connects this discordant group is subscription service Prime. Members get discounts in Whole Foods, speedy deliveries for online purchases and access to video and music streaming services. Healthcare will eventually feed in too. Given that Amazon’s ambitions are directly linked to the success of Prime the record number of subscribers it announced in the last quarter is reason to celebrate.
In the mould of Facebook and Apple, Amazon’s revenue and earnings were better than expected too. AWS remains the pick of the bunch. Its revenues made up about a tenth of the total $72bn yet contributed more than half of the group’s total operating profit.
The market gloom that accompanied results on Thursday therefore looks overblown. Investors may have politely avoided mentioning chief executive Jeff Bezos’ divorce — one of the biggest news stories linked to Amazon in the past three months — but there was palpable concern about retail and international performance. Shares fell 5 per cent in after-hours trading.
Pivoting into physical stores through Whole Foods and Amazon Go has admittedly not provided the same sort of high-margin business as advertising or cloud computing. Revenue of $4.4bn was 3 per cent below the same period last year, although Amazon explained that miss as differences in the lengths of each quarter.
Similar accounting tweaks are held partly accountable for total revenue growth of 20 per cent — the slowest recorded in almost four years. That is admittedly unimpressive for a company that trades at a throat-catching 65 times earnings. So is the expectation for growth as low as 10 per cent in the next quarter. But slower revenue growth is fine so long as Amazon can keep growing margins. Everything in this set of results suggests that it can.
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