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Amazon.com Reports Huge Loss; Wall Street Shrugs
By Michael J. Martinez   Associated Press
SEATTLE — Amazon.com Inc.'s losses in the fourth quarter were eight times wider than they were a year ago, despite the fact that the giant Internet retailer's sales more than doubled from the same period in 1998.

The results announced Wednesday were below Wall Street analysts' estimates, but its stock rose sharply in after-hours trading.

Seattle-based Amazon lost $185 million, or 55 cents a share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with a loss of $21.99 million, or 7 cents a share, in the last quarter of 1998.

Sales for the quarter totaled $676 million, up from $253 million a year ago.

Despite its soaring revenues, Amazon executives warned Jan. 5 that its losses for the quarter would be larger than expected because it overstocked for holiday season.

Analysts surveyed by First Call/Thompson Financial estimated a loss of 48 cents per share. Unofficial "whisper numbers," which can be a more realistic estimate, pegged the losses at 45 cents per share.

Still, investors seemed satisfied with the results that were announced after financial markets closed, pushing Amazon's shares up $5.43 to $74.87 in after-hours trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Earlier in the day, Amazon closed at $69.43, up $2.

While Amazon has never turned a profit since it first starting selling books online in 1995, the company has clearly built itself into a leading merchant on the Web today.

During the fourth quarter, it attracted more than 3.8 million new customers, bringing its customer base to more than 17 million people - well ahead of most of its rivals.

Amazon not only seeks to woo shoppers to its site, but it wants people to keep coming back. Repeat customer orders represented more than 73 percent of its orders during the fourth quarter, compared with 72 percent in the third quarter of the year.

In the last year, the company has been aggressively expanding itself into an Internet superstore. During the fourth quarter, it added a number of new product offerings to its site, including software, video games and home improvement products.

The company said its book business, which now represents less than half of Amazon's total sales, was profitable in the fourth quarter, and the company expects it to be profitable through 2000.

Amazon.com's chief financial officer, Warren Jenson, said the company's overall operating loss will decrease later in the year.

For all of 1999, Amazon lost $390 million, or $1.19 per share, compared with losses of $74 million, or 25 cents per share, in 1998. Annual revenues came in at $1.64 billion, up 169 percent from the $610 million reported for all of 1998.

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