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亚马逊:挥金如土,布局未来

财富 2011年10月28日

亚马逊未能达到其盈利预期,引发对该公司成本上升的尖刻批评。但这家电子商务巨头以前也曾处于相同境地,最后却出人头地。

    亚马逊(Amazon)未能达到其盈利预期,引发媒体尖刻批评:这个电子商务巨头“挥金如土”,如今终于自食其果。即便较为温和的报道,也多多少少地将亚马逊描述成一家大手大脚或大肆挥霍的公司。其股价在周三大幅下跌,开盘后几分钟即下降近10%。

    亚马逊真的是个败家子吗?

    亚马逊财务负责人汤姆•史库塔克认真描述了公司支出增加的原因。他在同分析师的电话会议中称,“我们正投资,以便大幅扩容。”。他说的是亚马逊的分销设施以及面向视频、音乐、电子书和其他数字产品的服务器空间,亚马逊希望在不远的将来大幅提高上述产品的销量。

    同时,亚马逊近期还推出了Kindle Fire,积极准备与苹果(Apple)以及其影碟租赁及流媒体服务供应商Netflix 和在线音乐服务商Spotify等他竞争者一决高下。Kindle Fire旨在挑战iPad和其他平板电脑。Fire将于下个月发售,届时售价将为199美元,接近其成本价格,比苹果最便宜的iPad还要便宜200美元。Fire短期内不会对亚马逊的利润率提升有多大好处,但该公司的目的是向人们销售尽可能多的Fire,这样它就可以向人们销售自己数字产品,以及实体产品,因为Fire最终将被优化为一个移动的亚马逊商店。

    这笔投资是否成功,可能很大程度上取决于有多少客户会接受——或者甚至偏好——Fire的小屏幕:Fire的屏幕为7英寸,而iPad的显示器为9.7英寸。

    这些投资对于亚马逊的计划而言是否数额过于庞大?还有,这些计划是否根本就非明智之举?对于这些问题,观察者们可能有不同看法。但如果将这些投资是为亚马逊“消费习惯”的证据,就等于相信亚马逊2012年第三季度比其2012年或是2015年又或是2025年第三季度或是中间所有季度都更重要。亚马逊投资者关系页上写道:“我们致力于成为这个星球上最以客户为中心的公司,我们面向三大客户群体:消费者客户、销售商客户以及开放商客户。”上面并没有说:“我们致力于每个季度都超出分析师们的预期。”

    而且这次它确实没有做到这一点。亚马逊本季度的利润下滑了73%,降至6,300万美元,或每股14美分。分析师们对利润的预测平均约为每股24美分。该公司甚至警告称,其在第四季度可能出现亏损。资产管理公司Robert W. Baird & Co的.分析师科林•塞巴斯汀向彭博新闻(Bloomberg News)表示,如果亚马逊的投资仅使收入增长,但“其利润并未出现相应增长,投资者就会开始挠头了。”

    没错。但是现在就已经到了挠头的时候了吗?该公司上个月刚刚推出了Fire,三周后才将发布该产品。现在完全无从猜测这些平板电脑会对数字产品或实体产品的销售产生多大的刺激作用。周二史库塔克只肯透露说Fire的预售“非常火爆”。亚马逊称,9月28日,即该公司Fire及其它Kindle产品面世当日,是Kindle系列所有产品有史以来定购量最大的一天。

    同理,该公司仍在打造其云计算服务,在过去一年,它增加了17个新的数据中心。这些都会侵蚀利润,但长期来看应该会促进利润增长。与此同时,随着电子书迅速取代纸质书,消费者们正在纷纷购买各种型号的Kindle。

    亚马逊的销售额在本季度增长44%,与预期相符。该公司最近一次出现亏损是整整10年前,当时它也是在进行扩张并大举投资于基础设施以抢夺市场份额,而它也确实如愿以偿。

    译者:项航

    Amazon's earnings miss elicited a shrill response from the press: the e-commerce giant's "big-spending ways" finally caught up with it. Even some of the more muted coverage has, more or less, characterized Amazon as a shopaholic or spendthrift of sorts. The company's shares traded sharply lower on Wednesday, down nearly 10% a few minutes after the open.

    Is Amazon (AMZN) really a reckless spender?

    The company's finance chief, Tom Szkutak, soberly described the reasons for its increased outlays: "We're investing in a lot of capacity," he said during a conference call with analysts, referring to new distribution facilities and server space for the video, music, e-books and other digital products the company plans to sell a lot more of in the near future.

    Amazon is also gearing up for battle with Apple (AAPL) and other competitors -- like Netflix (NFLX) and Spotify -- with the new Kindle Fire, which is meant to take on the iPad and other tablets. When the Fire is released next month, it will sell for $199, which is at or near cost, by mos accounts, and which is $200 less than what Apple is charging for its cheapest iPad. That won't help margins much in the short-term either, but the idea is to get as many Fires into people's hands as possible so that Amazon can sell them all those digital products, as well as physical ones, since the Fire will be optimized as a mobile Amazon storefront.

    The test of whether the investment is successful might largely come down to how many customers will accept -- or even favor -- the Fire's smaller screen, which is 7 inches compared to the iPad's 9.7-inch display.

    Observers might differ over whether these investments are too large for what Amazon has planned. And they might differ over whether those plans are even wise to begin with. But characterizing the investments as evidence of a "spending habit" buys into the idea that Amazon's third quarter of 2012 is more important than its third quarter of 2012, or of 2015, or of 2025, or of all the quarters in between. "We seek to be Earth's most customer-centric company for three primary customer sets: consumer customers, seller customers and developer customers," says the message on Amazon's investor relations page. It doesn't say: "We seek to beat analysts' expectations every quarter."

    And in this case, it didn't. Amazon's profits fell 73%, to $63 million, or 14 cents a share. Analysts on average expected profits of about 24 cents. The company also warned that it might lose money in the fourth quarter. Colin Sebastian, an analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co., told Bloomberg News that if Amazon's investments add to revenue but "don't show a corresponding increase in earnings, investors start to scratch their heads."

    Sure. But should they be scratching yet? The company just introduced the Fire last month, and it won't be released for another three weeks. There's no way of even making a reasonable guess as to how the tablets might spur sales of either digital products or physical goods. Pre-orders of the Fire have been "extremely strong" was all Szkutak would say on Tuesday. Amazon said September 28, which the Fire and other new Kindle models were introduced, was its biggest order day ever for all flavors of the Kindle.

    Similarly, the company is still building up its cloud computing services and over the past year it added 17 new fulfillment centers. All of this ate into profits, but presumably will add to them over time. Meanwhile customers are flocking to all flavors of the Kindle as e-books rapidly take the place of bound books.

    Amazon's sales grew by 44% in the quarter, in line with expectations. The last time the company posted a loss was exactly 10 years ago, during another period of expansion and heavy investment in infrastructure to nab market share -- which is exactly what it did.

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