Amazon reported a spectacular quarter after the market close Wednesday, losing just $197 million, which was better than analysts expected.

Of course, companies almost always do better than analysts expect, because analysts have somehow not noticed that the game is all about beating expectations, and so expectations are purposely “guided” low and then — wham! — beaten . . . just as everyone but the analysts expected.

(Once in a while expectations have to be lowered in mid-quarter in order to set this up, in which case the reporting company’s results will be said to have “exceeded lowered expectations.”)

But you can’t argue with success. By losing only $197 million this quarter, Amazon beat expectations. And by more than quadrupling the loss over the same period last year, it showed that losses could be ramped up even faster than sales, which merely doubled.

There’s no disputing this is bang-up performance. Amazon beat expectations! Yet again!

Unaccountably, the stock actually dropped $5 on the news.

Why so cheap?

At this level, Amazon is valued at barely double FedEx. But all FedEx does is make a half-billion-dollar profit each year delivering the stuff Amazon sells at a loss. Anybody could do that. It’s just a matter of buying a few hundred jets and a few thousand vans, hiring 125,000 employees, and setting up some systems. But how many people can set up a web site to sell stuff?

Almost nobody, which is why you see so few retailers on the web. Barely a thousand new ones debut each day.

One outfit that’s managed to do so: Outpost.com, which claims to sell 160,000 different products, and which has a joint venture with Tweeter.com. (Tweeter got its start when my buddy Sandy Bloomberg, then maybe 20, started a little stereo store in Cambridge or Boston someplace back when we were all in bell bottoms — and certainly before any of us wore undershirts — and now look at him!)

I signed on to Tweeter’s Outpost last night around eleven thirty and bought a 13-inch am/fm alarm-clock-enabled cable-ready remote-controlled Panasonic color TV/VCR combination for $259, including free overnight shipping. Seriously: it has every one of those functions, and even pre-sets for the radio — plus a sleep timer that shuts off the TV when it hears you snore. (At least I think that’s how it works.)

And here is my point:

The box arrived (Airborne, not FedEx) . . . this morning.

Are you listening? I ordered it shortly before midnight last night. It arrived this morning!

I’m not saying this is typical of Outpost; I don’t know. It’s the first thing I’ve ever ordered from them. But how much better than this can Amazon do? Is AMZN really worth fifty times as much as Outpost? As I’ve said all along, if everything goes right for Amazon, you can make a case for its one day being one of the most valuable companies on the planet. But it’s already valued at more than FedEx, United Airlines, and the New York Times Company — plus 10 Outpost.coms — combined. And what if it turns out others can compete?

(Full disclosure: I have long been short AMZN and long been long FDX; I have no position in COOL or TWTR; I am a happy AMZN customer and wish them well.)

 

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