Amazon.com Inc. shares dropped after the e-commerce giant gave a tepid first-quarter sales forecast and raised concerns about rising costs, slowing retail growth and a murky outlook for its business in India.
Sales will be $56 billion to $60 billion in the current period, the company said Thursday, compared with analysts’ average estimate of $61 billion. Though fourth-quarter sales and earnings topped analysts’ estimates, growth in the North American retail unit slowed dramatically in the key holiday period, and comments about uncertainty in India sent the stock lower.
Shares were down 4 percent in pre-market trading at 7:32 a.m. in New York Friday.
Finance chief Brian Olsavsky tried to reassure investors that the company remains on the right track. But he had few encouraging words about growth in India, saying the effects of new e-commerce regulations in the country are still uncertain. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos has pledged about $5 billion to chase growth in India, seeing the world’s second-most populous country as the best frontier for Amazon’s international push. But its grand plans were thrown into chaos after the country implemented new e-commerce regulations, which some analysts believe could cut its growth in the market by as much as half this year.
“That’s wildly concerning,” said Tom Forte, an analyst at DA Davidson & Co. “Think about how damaging it will be to Amazon’s future if India isn’t a big part of it. Up until now, China has been its biggest failure.”
In the fourth quarter, overall losses from international operations widened to $642 million, reversing a trend of improving profitability. On a call with reporters, Olsavsky also said headwinds from foreign currency exchange rates are curbing revenue.
Worldwide shipping costs increased 23 percent in the fourth quarter, outpacing online sales growth and highlighting the strain of free shipping promotions Amazon launched to fend off competition from Walmart Inc. and Target Corp. over the holidays. Amazon also saw a big deceleration in subscription-services revenue, which is mostly Prime membership fees. More than 100 million Prime members worldwide pay monthly or yearly fees in exchange for shipping discounts and music and video streaming. Amazon increased the price of Prime last year, and free two-day shipping has become a common offering from other retailers.
The company forecast first-quarter operating income of $2.3 billion to $3.3 billion, in line with projections for…