The pandemic has been very profitable for Amazon.com Inc.
Amazon AMZN, +0.37% reported first-quarter earnings of $8.11 billion Thursday afternoon, trouncing expectations yet again as it continues to provide services greatly needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely e-commerce and cloud computing. In the 12 months ending March 31, comprising most of the pandemic’s effects in the U.S. and areas other than China, Amazon collected net income of about $26.9 billion.
That is more than Amazon’s profits from the previous three full years, 2017 through 2019, which totaled roughly $24.7 billion. And those three years were Amazon’s most profitable in its history, after the company focused more on growth than earnings for decades as it built out its warehousing and logistics systems for delivering goods sold on its website as well as its data-center network for Amazon Web Services’ cloud-computing offering. Through the end of 2019, Amazon had collected total profit in its history of $29.62 billion, according to Dow Jones Market Data.
Amazon reported first-quarter earnings of $15.79 a share, more than triple the $5.01 a share recognized in the same period a year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic had just started causing shelter-in-place restrictions in the U.S. Sales grew to $108.52 billion from $75.45 billion the year before. It was Amazon’s second consecutive quarter of more than $100 billion in revenue, after never previously hitting that mark, and the company expects to top the mark again in the current quarter.
Analysts on average expected Amazon to report earnings of $9.54 a share on sales of $104.51 billion, according to FactSet. Shares gained about 3% in after-hours trading immediately following the release of the results, after closing with a 0.4% gain at $3,471.31. The stock has gained 46.5% in the past 12 months, as the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.68% has gained 42.3%.
Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky admitted in a conference call Thursday that even he was “surprised a bit by the growth.”
“I don’t think we normally would have forecasted 50% growth in Q1 and certainly stressing our operations, but my hat’s off to the operations team,” he said. “They handled the volumes in Q1 very efficiently.”
The current quarter is expected to be the final full period for Amazon with founder Jeff Bezos at the helm. Three months ago, Amazon announced that Bezos would depart as chief executive in the third quarter to become executive chairman of the company, while AWS CEO Andy Jassy takes over the lead role for the whole company. Bezos released his final annual letter as CEO earlier this month, revealing that Amazon had topped 200 million subscribers to its Prime service and detailing a more intense focus on employee welfare.
For the second quarter, Amazon forecast sales of $110 billion to $116 billion, while analysts on average were projecting revenue of $108.49 billion, according to FactSet. That projection is contingent on Prime Day happening in the current quarter, which the company expects, after the sales promotion previously took place in July. Olsavsky said Thursday that Amazon would announce a specific date later in the quarter.
“We believe that it might be better timing later in Q2, so that’s what we’re testing this year,” he said.
While there have been concerns that vaccinations and a subsequent reopening economy could move Amazon’s sales elsewhere, analysts don’t seem concerned about that possibility.
“While we continue to hear about inconsistent consumer data points heading into 2Q, we believe a combination of stimulus money, learned e-commerce behaviors and advertising strength should more than offset the expected impact of reopening, which we suspect will be less than anticipated regardless,” Benchmark analysts wrote in a preview of Thursday’s report.
The big earnings beat in the first quarter largely stemmed from strong growth for Amazon’s e-commerce business, which provided more than $2 billion more in operating profit than analysts expected. North American e-commerce sales provide the bulk of Amazon’s revenue, turning in sales of $64.37 billion in the first quarter, up from $46.13 billion a year ago. Amazon reported operating profit of $3.45 billion from North American sales, up from $1.31 billion the year before. Analysts on average expected operating profit of $2.25 billion on sales of $63.12 billion, according to FactSet.
One big change during the pandemic has been Amazon’s international sales becoming profitable — Amazon had not recorded an operating profit from international sales since midway through 2016 until that segment flipped to the black in the second quarter last year. Amazon recognized operating profit of $1.25 billion in the quarter from international sales, after reporting a loss of $398 million on those sales a year ago. Amazon reported international sales of $30.65 billion in the quarter, up from $19.11 billion a year ago. Analysts had expected operating profit of $145.7 million, more than $1 billion less than the actual total, on sales of $28.14 billion, according to FactSet.
AWS continued to be a big profit center for the company, with the cloud-computing division providing operating profit of $4.16 billion on sales of $13.5 billion in the quarter, up from profit of $3.08 billion on revenue of $10.22 billion a year ago. Analysts on average had expected operating profit of $3.88 billion on sales of $13.06 billion, according to FactSet.