32,200: The Number of New Kindle Titles in 2012, or a More Troubling Category of Amazon Growth?

Jeff Bezos has to be the most popular CEO among parents of recent college graduates: his Amazon (AMZN) boosted employment 57% last year, to 88,400, even as sales grew by only 27%. Talk about taking one for the team.

Kids, here is where to find the Amazon job openings.

For investors, however, the results for 2012 would seem less encouraging: a net loss for the year of $39 million, despite selling $61.1 billion in goods and services, vs. year-ago net of $631 million. The stock actually gained after results were announced Tuesday, and has risen 48% during the past year, as seen in a stock chart. People just love companies that lose money, eh?

AMZN Chart

AMZN data by YCharts

Projections for the first quarter are for slower sales growth – between 14% and 26% -- and a bottom line of between a $285 million operating loss and a $65 million operating profit.

As YCharts has reported, Amazon, in its aggressive pricing, has become the suicide bomber of retail, ruining its own profit margins and those of competitors, such as Best Buy (BBY).

The hiring binge -- employment at Amazon grew by 32,200 during the past year -- means revenue per employee continues to sink, as YCharts has written before.

The bull case has to be that Amazon runs competitors out of business and thus can raise prices, all of a sudden becoming profitable. That would seem to ignore the fact that the U.S. economy has seemingly endless amounts of risk capital and entrepreneurs willing to enter tough and competitive industries.

The free shipping thing, at least, has become somewhat less of a drag on Amazon’s results, with net shipping costs – as a percentage of sales – at around 4.5% for the past three quarters, down from previous levels of 5% or more. No shipping on Kindle downloads and perhaps Amazon Prime has tempted fewer shoppers as time has worn on.

As usual, the disclosure from Amazon is murky. How many Kindles or digital downloads did we sell. Lots, but beyond calling eBooks a “multi-billion dollar category for us and growing fast – up approximately 70% last year,” we don’t learn much. Up 70% from what? The earnings release’s highlights section is all about stuff Amazon is doing for consumers, but information investors might like to have is largely absent.

AMZN Revenue Quarterly Chart

AMZN Revenue Quarterly data by YCharts

Those lines crossing ought to concern even the most devoted Amazon true believers. Economies of scale aren’t appearing. Hell-bent for revenue growth – and a fabulous company to deal with if you’re a consumer – is the best that can be said.

US Unemployment Rate Chart

US Unemployment Rate data by YCharts

Meanwhile, the Bezos job machine hums along. Is anyone doing more to reduce unemployment?

Jeff Bailey, The Editor of YCharts, is a former reporter, editor and columnist at the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. He can be reached at editor@ycharts.com.



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