Amazon beats Street estimates

Internet darling Amazon.com Inc. beat Street estimates in its fourth quarter Tuesday, posting a loss of $22.

Internet darling Amazon.com Inc. beat Street estimates in its fourth quarter Tuesday, posting a loss of $22.2m (£13.4m), or 14 cents a share, on sales of $252.9m. First Call consensus expected a loss of 18 cents a share.

Amazon.com shares closed up 2 23/32 to 115 3/32 ahead of the earnings report but soared up more than $8 a share in after-hours trading. Earlier this month, company officials predicted it would see revenue of more than $250m.

The $252.9m in sales is a 283 percent improvement versus the year-ago quarter when it lost $9.3m, or 7 cents a share, on sales of $66m. For the year, Amazon.com lost $74.4m, or 50 cents a share, on sales of $610m. In 1997, it lost $31m, or 24 cents a share, on sales of $147.8m. Including a series of merger and acquisition expenses, Amazon.com lost $46.4m, or 30 cents a share, in the quarter.

"We have one strategy at Amazon.com -- provide the customer with the best shopping experience," said CEO Jeff Bezos in a prepared statement. "We're extremely grateful to our customers for an incredible holiday season and an exceptional year." In the quarter, the company added 1.7m customer accounts for a total of 6.2m. Repeat customer orders represented more than 64 percent of orders placed in the quarter. Company officials said music sales grew to $33.1m, a 130 percent increase over sales of $14.4m in the third quarter.

"In 1999, we intend to build out a significant distribution infrastructure," Bezos said. "We must ensure that we can support all the sales that customers demand, with speedy access to a deep product inventory." Amazon.com shares stormed up to a 52-week high of 199 1/2 earlier this month following its 3-for-1 stock split. At this time last year, its shares were trading at 10 3/8. Last quarter, Amazon.com lost $45m, or 30 cents a share, on sales of $153m.

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