January 31, 2014

THAT’S OKAY, WE’RE HEADING INTO ANOTHER “RECOVERY SUMMER.” Amazon’s Bad Omen for the U.S. Economy.

The title of the company’s news release is cheerily optimistic: “Amazon.com Announces Fourth Quarter Sales up 20% to $25.59 Billion.” And its operating income actually beat estimates — $510 million, compared with $489.9 million. But fourth-quarter sales of $25.6 billion were considerably below estimates of $26.08 billion, and earnings per share were 51 cents instead of the 69 cents that analysts had been expecting.

That’s not just disappointing for Amazon; it’s also not great news for the U.S. economy. When retail foot traffic and sales were disappointing in December, the standard explanation was that people must be moving their purchases online. Obviously, they weren’t — at least, not nearly as much as analysts expected. Given how dominant Amazon is in e-commerce, this should cause most of us to revise our expectations of fourth-quarter retail sales, as well as growth in gross domestic product. And not in a good direction.

Pay no attention to the sales figures behind the curtain.