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Amazon.com 1Q Net Off 35% On Spending Bite

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Amazon.com Inc.'s (AMZN) first-quarter profit fell 35% as the online retailer's heavy spending continued to weigh down the bottom line. The No. 1 Internet retailer by sales also warned for the third time in as many quarters that it could post an operating loss in the current period, predicting a profit of $40 million to a loss of $260 million. It estimated net sales between $11.9 billion and $13.3 billion, bracketing analysts' average $12.82 billion estimate, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters. Shares surged 9.2% to $214 after hours as the bottom-line result easily topped analysts' cautious expectations. The stock was up 13% this year through Thursday's close. Amazon's bottom line has sagged over the past year as the online retailer continues to invest heavily in a wide range of projects aimed at making its name more ubiquitous in areas ranging from online TV to the industrial supply business. The company has also spent money on efforts to make its operations more efficient, as demonstrated by the company's $775 million acquisition of robot maker Kiva Systems Inc. unveiled last month. The online shopping giant says heavy investment will drive greater profitability in the long run--Kiva's robots make its distribution network more efficient, for instance--though the spending spree has taxed investors' patience. In the latest period, Amazon posted a profit of $130 million, or 28 cents a share, down from $201 million, or 44 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts were expecting a 7-cent per-share profit. Net sales rose 34% to $13.19 billion, in line with the company's cautious January guidance, which called for $12 billion to $13.4 billion in sales. Gross margin widened to 24% from 22.8%. Operating expenses jumped 36% in the latest quarter, again outstripping revenue growth. Operating earnings fell 41% to $192 million. The company in January said its operating bottom line could range from a $200 million loss to a $100 million profit. -By Drew FitzGerald, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2909; Andrew.FitzGerald@dowjones.com

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