Why Amazon Earnings May Be Better Than They Look

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When Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) reported fourth-quarter 2016 results after markets closed on Thursday, the online retailer posted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.54 and revenues of $43.7 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported EPS of $1.00 on revenues of $35.7 billion. Fourth-quarter results also compare to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates calling for a loss of $1.35 per share and $44.68 billion in revenues.

For the full year, Amazon reported EPS of $4.90 and revenues of $136 billion, compared with $1.25 in EPS and revenues of $107 billion in 2015. Analysts were looking for EPS of $4.76 and revenues of $136.99 billion.

Operating cash flow for the year rose 38% to $16.4 billion (for comparison, Boeing’s full year cash flow was $10.25 billion, and Boeing sells really expensive stuff). Free cash flow rose to $9.7 billion, up from $7.3 billion a year ago, not including various leasing costs.

As far as guidance for the first quarter, net sales are expected to be between $33.25 billion and $35.75 billion, up 14% to 23% year over year including a 2.5% hit from foreign exchange rates. Operating income is projected to be between $250 million and $900 million, down from $1.1 billion in the first quarter of last year.

Analysts are estimating first quarter EPS of $1.65 and revenues of $35.95 billion, compared with year-ago results of $1.07 in EPS and $29.13 billion in sales. For the full year, analysts are forecasting EPS of $8.62 and revenues of $168.07 billion.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) revenues totaled $3.54 billion, up about 47% from a total of $2.41 billion in the fourth-quarter of last year. AWS accounted for $926 million in fourth-quarter operating income, nearly 60% greater than the $580 million total in the first quarter. For the year, AWS sales grew 55% and increased the division’s contribution to net sales from 7% in 2015 to 9% in 2016.

The revenue miss will disappoint investors, but look at that cash flow and the growth in AWS revenues.

Amazon shares traded down about 4.4% at $803.00 in Friday’s premarket session, after closing up 0.9% on Thursday at $840.18. The stock’s 52-week range is $474.00 to $847.21. The consensus 12-month price target on the stock was $929.10 before the report was released.