Amazon's release of its third quarter financial results Thursday afternoon gave analysts and investors lots to think about as the giant e-tailer posted a large quarterly loss, forecast the possibility of a loss for the fourth quarter and had slowing growth in its media segment.
In the period ended September 30, sales rose 20 percent to $20.58 billion and Amazon had an operating loss of $544 million compared to a loss of $25 million in the third quarter of 2013.
Within its media group, which includes all content sales, total revenue rose 4 percent, including a 5 percent increase in North America, the slowest growth rates in about 20 quarters, one analyst estimated during the conference call to discuss the results. Amazon CFO Tom Szkutak attributed the relatively slow growth in North America to more textbook rentals rather than sales and to a strong third quarter for book sales in last year's third quarter that was driving in part by heavy discounting. He said the company is still dealing with the transition from physical to digital sales of content, particularly in its overseas markets. Overall, growth in international markets was slower than in North America which Szktuak attributed to slower sales "across a number of geographies."
The total loss in the quarter included $170 million in charges, most of it associated with the release of its Fire smartphone. Although the company did not talk about Fire sales, Szkutak did say Amazon has $83 million in Fire inventory. Though Amazon has plenty of initiatives planned for the holiday season and beyond, Szkutak acknowledged that Amazon will be more selective in what new opportunities it pursues. Among things already in the works Amazon said it will have 15 sorting centers opened by the holidays and will have added about 14 new fulfillment centers. The rollout of both initiatives are aimed at speeding delivery to customers and Szktuak estimated that Amazon will offer Sunday delivery to about 50 percent of American consumers this holiday season.
Amazon's forecast for the fourth quarter was typically wide ranging with sales growth predicted to increase by 7 percent to 18 percent with possibility of a loss of $570 million to earnings of $430 million.