Amazon's Bad Omen for the U.S. Economy

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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Amazon.com Inc .'s shares fell almost 10 percent a few minutes past 4 p.m., after the company dropped some disappointing earnings news. 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.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

Megan McArdle writes about economics, business and public policy for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter at @assymetricinfo.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
James Gibney at jgibney5@bloomberg.net