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Three Things to Look For in Amazon's First-Quarter Earnings Report

Wall Street (and the press) will be looking for updates on AWS, the Amazon tax effect and more.

Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

It’s rare that Amazon opens up on its earnings calls about the numbers or topics the media and Wall Street are most interested in. For example, the press has all but given up on getting any specific numbers on Kindle sales.

With that in mind, here are topics of interest that Amazon may realistically shed some light on and which will have wide-reaching impact when it reports first-quarter financial results today.

1. Sales tax: Amazon is now required to charge its shoppers sales tax in 20 states in the U.S., according to its website. A research report published this month found that households in five states in which Amazon recently started charging sales tax spent 9.5 percent less on Amazon after the change was made.

“Households substitute Amazon with other retailers: either online retailers who are exempt from collecting sales tax, or in-state retailers (online and brick-and-mortar),” the report reads.

If Amazon doesn’t talk about it in its prepared remarks, count on an analyst or journalist asking about it on the earnings call that follows.

2. AWS: Amazon Web Services has become a hit among startups looking for data storage and computing power without all the infrastructure. But with an all-out pricing war being waged by Amazon, Google and Microsoft, analysts and journalists alike would like some more color on where the business stands.

“While Amazon has cut AWS prices 42 times in the past, cloud competition appears to be heating up and this could impact … AWS revenue,” J.P. Morgan said in a research note.

3. Unit sales growth: The chart below shows year-over-year growth in the number of individual units or products Amazon has sold.

At first blush, the steady deceleration looks alarming, until you realize that unit sales growth was at a healthy 25 percent last quarter. Still, Wall Street wants to see that number at least stabilize, as Amazon gets more aggressive overseas and rolls out new services such as Prime Pantry and Amazon Fresh in the U.S.

Bonus topics: I’d love to hear what customer feedback Amazon has gotten on the Amazon Prime price hike, but the truth is it will likely be too early to tell. Same goes for Amazon Fire TV, though, again, Amazon isn’t known to dive into specifics on individual product sales.

And for those looking for financial expectations, Wall Street analysts on average are predicting Amazon to report earnings per share of 23 cents on $19.4 billion in revenue.

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