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Amazon's sales and its revenue forecast disappoint

Amazon's sales and its revenue forecast disappoint
Amazon Prime Now bags full of groceries are loaded for delivery outside a Whole Foods store. (John Minchillo / Associated Press)

Amazon.com Inc. reported sales that missed analysts’ estimates and issued a disappointing revenue forecast for the busy holiday quarter, suggesting the online marketplace may be reaching a saturation point in the United States.

Revenue climbed 29% to $56.6 billion in the third quarter, the e-commerce giant said Thursday. Analysts had projected $57.1 billion. Amazon forecast sales of $66.5 billion to $72.5 billion in the current period, falling short of analysts’ average estimate of $73.8 billion.

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Profit jumped, however. Amazon reported net income of $2.88 billion, or $5.75 a share, in the third quarter — up from $256 million, or 52 cents, in the same quarter last year, beating analysts’ expectation of $3.11 a share.

Amazon issued its report Thursday after markets closed. Its stock declined as much as 6.5% in after-hours trading.

U.S. shoppers are projected to increase their online spending by as much as 22% this holiday season, according to Deloitte Insights. Amazon is poised to benefit from that shift, capturing almost half of U.S. online sales, according to EMarketer Inc. Although Amazon has dominated e-commerce in the United States, it faces stepped-up competition from rivals such as Walmart Inc.

The company showed slowing revenue growth in all categories quarter over quarter, including online sales and subscription sales, Amazon Web Services sales and its fast-growing advertising business. Amazon has relied on growth in the ranks of its Prime members, estimated at about 97 million in the United States, who pay fees in exchange for shipping discounts, streaming video and other services.

Amazon’s stock had risen about 50% this year, as investors bet on the Seattle company’s continued dominance and its expansion into new areas. The shares have dropped about 15% from their September high amid a broader market downturn and closed Thursday at $1,782.17 before the results were released.

Amazon also is investing in physical stores and the pharmacy business. It bought online pharmacy PillPack in June, which followed its $13.7-billion acquisition of Whole Foods last year to jump-start its grocery business. It has opened cashier-less AmazonGo stores — which sell premade sandwiches, salads and grocery items — in San Francisco and Chicago. Amazon’s fast-growing cloud computing and advertising units, which are more profitable than its main e-commerce business, help fuel its investments in more retail categories, video content and devices such as tablets and Echo smart speakers.

Chief Executive Jeff Bezos spends heavily to keep ahead. Amazon has been building new warehouses and data centers around the world, inventing new devices and trying to re-imagine the convenience store experience. Investors can get skittish when signs suggest the company is ramping up expenses without regard to maintaining a profitable business.

Parcel delivery capacity issues and a tight labor market could prevent Amazon from meeting demand. Amazon plans to hire 100,000 seasonal workers this year and pledged to pay its warehouse workers at least $15 an hour, which could help it secure the additional staff it needs during peak season. The company also launched a program to help people buy vans and start their own businesses making Amazon deliveries.

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