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Taking stock: Earnings standouts exist

It’s earnings season, and everyone knew most companies were going to report lackluster figures.

But there were a couple of exceptions this past week.

Amazon (AMZN), the online retailer, posted a first-quarter profit that beat expectations.

The company’s sales jumped 18 percent to $4.89 billion, and its net income jumped 24 percent to $177 million.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the company benefited from consumers shifting more and more to online shopping, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The company has also increasingly been bringing outside merchants on to Amazon’s site to sell goods like jewelry, Bezos said.

The report was cause for celebration, but Amazon officials expressed caution for coming quarters due to the continuing recession.

Netflix (NFLX), the DVDs-by-mail and online movie rental company, also brought good news to the mostly lackluster earnings season.

The Los Gatos, Calif., company said its subscriptions had jumped by 920,000 during the quarter.

“More budget-conscious Americans are embracing low-cost movie rentals over higher-priced theater tickets,” reported Investor’s Business Daily.

So there are a couple of bright spots amid the earnings carnage.

Microsoft (MSFT), however, was not so lucky. The software giant’s profit fell 32 percent, and sales of Windows software declined 16 percent from a year earlier.

As for me, I’m still playing it safe. Even though it looks like some things are improving and the market is showing some stability — at least hanging in at the 8,000 level in the Dow — there are still plenty of reasons to be cautious.

Global growth has slowed, and the International Monetary Fund recently projected that the downturn will continue in all countries as surpluses of various goods continue to pile up.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that small-business owners are not taking salaries in an effort to help them stay afloat.

An American Express survey showed that 30 percent of 727 small-business owners and managers were not taking salaries. The Journal called that a troubling sign, because small businesses have created a significant share of U.S. jobs in recent years.

If more jobs continue to be lost, the market can only go one way — down. Let’s hope that a turnaround is in the making.

As for me, again, I’m too scared to tread in yet.