CFO Defends Amazon From Analyst Skepticism

Investors seem pretty disappointed with Amazon’s fourth quarter results (as of 3pm Pacific, the company’s stock is down 8.6 percent in after-hours training), yet for most of this afternoon’s analyst conference call, that disappointment was largely hidden in the normal stream of numbers and financial terminology. Finally, a few minutes before the call ended, one analyst asked CFO Tom Szkutak to directly address the concern that earlier questions had hinted at — namely, that the company seems to be seeing “diminishing return” on its spending.

Szutak’s initial response? “I’m not sure how to answer that.” Yes, he said Amazon is investing heavily (for example, he said Amazon had opened 17 fulfillment centers during the quarter, bringing the total to 69), but that’s because the company is seeing so much growth — in its own retail business, in fulfillment for third-party retailers, in Amazon Web Services, and so on. As evidence, he pointed to Amazon’s 46 percent growth in overall unit sales. (He talked in more detail about media sales earlier in the call.)

At the same time, he acknowledged that there have been some challenges this quarter, including the economic crisis in Europe and supply issues caused by flooding in Thailand.

“We’re incredibly excited about the opportunity that we have and that’s why we have invested as we have and why we’re continuing to invest,” Szutak said. Asked if Amazon will be changing its strategy at all, he said, “We’re continuing to look as we always do. We learn every week and every month and every quarter.”