Forget Apple's iPad; Amazon Much Bigger Than Kindle

So much talk these last few days about how the Apple iPad will be a Kindle killer, and how much damage the device might do to the Amazon brand, but with earnings tonight, Amazon will remind everyone that the company is much, much bigger than a book-reader.

The Street's looking for 72 cents a share in GAAP earnings on about $9.04 billion in revenue. The other key metric: Pro forma operating income which should come in about $542 million.

The fact is, every single market research report about holiday shopping, and particularly holiday shopping online, was positive. And with a tip of the hand from Amazon rival eBay just last week, all indications are that this company is poised for some very good earnings news. This company hit its stride during the middle of last year, and that momentum only accelerated during the fourth quarter.

Citi's Mark Mahaney is out again with his very useful "cheat sheet." He's looking for GAAP EPS of 72 cents and says if the company can meet his expectations, that would be positive for the stock. Revenue over $9.4 billion, or $400 million above consensus would also be good. North American revenue growth should be about 31 percent, or $4.7 billion, though Mahaney is looking for a figure closer to $4.9 billion. North American gross margins, he says, should be at 22.8 percent. International revenue growth should reach $4.3 billion, up about 40 percent year over year; and International gross margins should be about 17.5 percent. The total company's growth margin should be in the 20.3 percent range.

Looking out to the first quarter, the Street is anticipating an operating income midpoint of $461 million on revenue of $6.76 billion. And for the full year, if Amazon decides to offer up a long-term outlook this time around, look for operating income of $2.129 billion on $32.3 billion.

Mahaney points to several key positives for the company, including a strong management team "obsessed with innovation and customer experience; and the inability thus far of a competitor stealing away any meaningful revenue from the company's core business. Margin expansion is also a big plus.

Everybody loves a horse race, and Kindle vs. the iPad is going to be interesting to watch. But Kindle only represents such a tiny percentage of the overall Amazon story, and it is still so early in the e-book phenomenon, that it's simply too early to tell who will win and what effect that might have on Amazon's bottomline. At this stage, like in smart phones, there's clearly room for a number of winners. Amazon has the lead so it therefore will enjoy a continued stream of these early rewards. Apple's got the technology, but it's product is still 60 or 90 days away from the market. Too many unknowns to call a winner or winners just yet.

Amazon still trades at an exceptionally high multiple, but if last quarter's report was any indication, there's still a ways to go when it comes to impressing investors in this stock. I've seen plenty of targets over $170. Amazon might be the Apple of its market. Tonight's report, and the ensuing guidance, will go a long way toward determining whether Amazon has peaked, or its remarkable story is still only in the first chapter.

Questions? Comments?